On Managing an SCBWI Region
Chris Eboch (New Mexico)
Being Regional Advisor is like being a manager, especially if you have a medium to large region, with multiple volunteers. (This may also be true for ARAs and ICs, depending on the structure of the region.) Yet most of us probably don’t have management experience. Plus, we have the added complication of having volunteers rather than employees, which limits the carrots and sticks you can use to motivate people.
Today I’m going to share a few things I learned about being a manager, courtesy of SCBWI.
It can be tempting to try to do everything yourself. After all, that way you make sure it gets done right! Plus, you may not be comfortable asking people for “favors.” But you’ll have a better region if many people share the workload. You’ll also enjoy the experience more and stay longer because you won’t burn out. Quick tip: If you’re spending so much time on your SCBWI job that you don’t have time for your own writing and illustrating, you need to cut back and delegate more.
What if you can’t find volunteers to take on a job? Consider eliminating that event or opportunity. Either someone will step forward to keep it going, or they won’t. Either way, it’s not your responsibility to make every good idea happen. Your position comes with certain obligations, but beyond that, most things are optional.
Dare I suggest it… There may be a bit of the control freak in most RT members. Maybe it comes with the job. But try to let volunteers do their jobs without micromanaging. For one thing, micromanaging take up a lot of your time – and then you might as well do the job yourself. For another thing, no one likes to be micromanaged. Certainly you might have to keep an eye on things with a new volunteer, and of course you have to look over plans and approve expenses. But as much as possible, let people do their jobs their way.
Start by having a conversation about what you expect, with any deadlines or financial limitations. (It’s best to follow up with an e-mail confirming this in writing.) Let the volunteer know you’re available if they have questions or concerns. And then check in once in a while, but allow the volunteer freedom. In general, they’ll live up to or exceed your expectations. In 10 years as RA, only one volunteer has let me down. I wish I had that good a track record with conference speakers.
Accept Occasional Failures
Once in a while, things might fall apart. Someone won’t do their assigned task. If the job is very important, you might want two or three people to work on it together. That way at least one of them might come through. But in some cases, failure is all right. For example, you were going to have a free drawing for goodies at the conference, but the volunteer in charge of getting donations didn’t do it. Instead of scrambling at the last minute to do it yourself, simply cut that idea. Don’t fall into the trap of taking over for everyone who drops out. Remember, you are a volunteer too! Weigh the importance of the job and see if it can be eliminated.
Offer Praise, Perks, and Hugs
When I took over as RA in New Mexico, I had been in the state for less than a year. I didn’t know many of the other volunteers or members well. I was focused on figuring out how to do the job and getting things right.
One of my closer friends, a longtime volunteer, let me know that the other volunteers found me cool and aloof. I realized that the previous RA was much more of a motherly type, full of enthusiasms and hugs. That’s not my style, but I could certainly show my appreciation more. I started sending out end-of-the-year thank you notes with little Christmas gifts – cheap writer toys, or literary puzzles I made myself (not every year, but sometimes). I sent out an e-mail announcing the year’s free membership renewals, making it a clear thank you present for their work. I tried to follow up events with enthusiastic thank you notes.
You can offer your volunteers perks (such as free membership, free or discounted events, and special access to guest speakers). Equally important, find a way to let them know you appreciate their work. Think about how great it feels to hear, “You are important and valuable. We appreciate you.” For many people, that’s worth more than any financial reward.
CHRIS EBOCH SERVED AS RA FOR NEW MEXICO FROM 2003-2013 AND HAS GIVEN WORKSHOPS FOR MANY REGIONS AROUND THE WORLD. SHE WRITES FICTION AND NONFICTION FOR ALL AGES, WITH OVER 25 PUBLISHED BOOKS FOR CHILDREN. HER NOVELS FOR AGES NINE AND UP INCLUDE THE GENIE’S GIFT, A MIDDLE EASTERN FANTASY, THE EYES OF PHARAOH, A MYSTERY IN ANCIENT EGYPT; AND THE WELL OF SACRIFICE, A MAYAN ADVENTURE. HER BOOK ADVANCED PLOTTING HELPS WRITERS FINE-TUNE THEIR PLOTS. LEARN MORE HERE. CHRIS ALSO WRITES NOVELS OF SUSPENSE AND ROMANCE FOR ADULTS UNDER THE NAME KRIS BOCK.