volunteer managers: you are NOT psychic!

A colleague recently posted that this was one of the things that makes a great volunteer manager: going with your gut feeling.

UGH! Dislike!

In my trainings, I say just the opposite: do NOT assume your gut is telling you the truth.  

NEVER let your gut be your guide to decision-making.

I’ve had volunteer managers tell me that their gut reaciton to applicants to volunteer is their primary guide to keeping “bad” people out of their program. And, so, I remind them of all of the many people who had no negative gut feeling about clergy, coaches or youth group leaders before or while those people abused children. And of all many people who did not have a negative gut feeling about that boyfriend, spouse, family member or friend who, after years of knowing each other, turned out to be a liar, a cheat – even a killer.

Everyone in the Penn State/Second Mile scandal went with their gut instead of following good policy and procedures. Look where it got them!

Linda Graff once told me that one of the most chilling things you will ever do is sit in a courtroom and watch all of the many people ready to testify on behalf of their husbands, wives, sons, daughters, neighbors, co-workers, etc. – oh, no, that person could NOT do the things you have accused him/her of. It’s impossible. I KNOW this person. I don’t care what your evidence says – I know in my soul he/she is a good person. Those people’s guts told them one thing – and despite the facts, they prefer to listen to their gut.

I have almost let my gut feeling turn volunteers applicant away — and those people have turned out to be some of my best volunteers. What I was actually doing was hearing my prejudices: about age, about culture, or about education (or lack their of). And I was honest enough to explore that and admit to it.

I have had people tell me, after working together for a couple of months, “You know, my first impression of you was insert-negative-comment-here. You have turned out not at all to be that way.” And I thank them for NOT going with their gut!

I’ve had endless numbers of volunteer managers tell me that their gut reaction to virtual volunteering is NO WAY IS THAT SOMETHING MY ORGANIZATION SHOULD DO.

In the course of my job, I never let my gut make decisions for me. Ever. Yes, my gut reaction might lead me in a direction, but if my gut is telling me something in the work place, such as don’t accept that person as a volunteer or that new idea just isn’t worth trying, I don’t make a decision based on that – I do more investigating and questioning. When it comes to effectively supporting and engaging volunteers, I need facts. Why am I having that feeling that such-and-such isn’t a good volunteer? Is it that he is being evasive in his answers? Is it that she seems too good to be true? Is it that he looks like an ex-boyfriend? When I start answering those questions honestly for myself, I either come to the concrete, fact-based reason I don’t want the person as a volunteer or I have to accept that my reluctance is more about prejudice than reality.

Volunteer managers: you are not psychic. There are no such things as psychics. Listen to your gut, but do NOT let it make your decisions, and if you haven’t said in the last three months, “Wow, my gut was wrong about that!” then you are NOT being honest with yourself!

Also see:

Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us by retired FBI profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole (with co-author Alisa Bowman)

Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton

Beyond Police Checks: The Definitive Volunteer & Employee Screening Guidebook by Linda L. Graff


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