by Marie McNeil

As it was for everyone, 2020 was quite a year for me. Not only for personal reasons and the every-day struggle of living through a pandemic but professionally. I have never been quite so challenged, grown and achieved so much.

Leading a team to transition to work from home overnight (literally…I made the call whilst stuck at traffic lights on the way home!) and to manage the disruption of plans and personal lives was just the start. At the end of April, I was told my team would be furloughed and I would still be working. The initial shock was disabling. I pride myself on being an effective leader and working well with my team. For the first week I didn’t know what to do with myself – what work should I do now? What COULD I do now? How do I even update the database? (it’s like riding a bike, it came back to me in the end!). Little did I know at the time that not actually having a team would make me a better leader, mentor, colleague and professional.

At the beginning of the second week, I gave myself a good talking to. I decided to treat this period for me. For my development and for my growth. So much so, I call it my “Covid Sabbatical”.

What has all this got to do with being a mentor? As part of that talking to – I re-joined AVM and it was one of the best things I did. Having been on the periphery of the volunteering world for a little over a year (being the charity of the Civil Service, sometimes our volunteering and volunteers felt like we were trying to stick a square peg in a round hole and not all that was available was relevant.) I found my community and my mojo again. The resources on the website were just what I needed to be inspired and motivated to write a new volunteer strategy for the charity. The email updates and newsletters offered a lifeline to the “outside world” away from my spare bedroom and the Charity. And for the first time in my life, I had the space to read, research and reflect on resources and ideas that I just hadn’t had the time for before. I felt equipped, knowledgeable and resourceful as a volunteer manager.

My team didn’t return to work until October fully. At the same time, they were delivering a new Volunteer engagement network; The Champions, which I had designed as part of the new Volunteering strategy so they hit the ground running. But I had a team that were invigorated and inspired to be back and to get stuck in. So, I signed them up to AVM, so they too could have access to all that I had as well.

And then, AVM advertised for Mentors for Volunteer Managers. I jumped at the chance. I wanted to share what I had learnt about myself and working in the charity sector for 20yrs+. Having suffered from a lack of confidence and self-esteem for so long, that was gone and I wanted to challenge and be challenged in a new way (it also helped that one of my personal objectives for the year was to raise my profile….never give me a target as I will ALWAYS rise to it!)

Applying was easy, and within a few weeks I was sent a profile of a possible Mentee – Daisy Falconer; the Young Carers Programme Manager at Carers Trust. She sounded great and we had quite a few things in common. But that lack of confidence started rearing its head “What do I have to offer her?” “Will I be good enough?” “Surely there’s someone better than me?” and I just felt ill-equipped to offer her what she was looking for. Then I left it and read it again a few days later and those fears were gone. I said yes and we were put in touch with each other.

I “obviously” found Daisy on Linkedin and connected, this was great as it meant I could find out a little bit more about her and she about me, which certainly helped, I think. Daisy dived right in and emailed me and our first meeting was on a Monday morning in April. After checking the brilliant mentor guidance notes that AVM provide a million times and having them open on my desktop for reference in the meeting. I didn’t need them. Daisy and I clicked immediately and I can honestly say a firm relationship, that has grown well over the past seven months, which has brought me more confidence and recognition and belief in my own abilities not just in mentoring but Volunteering and leadership as well.

If Daisy prepares a subject for our meetings it’s not obvious, as our conversation always easily flows. Often a subject we discuss is something that she is struggling with or she will want my opinion on. I helped prepare her for an internal role she applied for (and got!) and have suggested a variety of strategic and management tools, techniques and resources that I use or that I have coincidentally come across that I know would be of interest to her and recommend straight away. I often have found myself kicking myself after a session knowing that everything that I’ve just said to her I know I should be saying to myself. So, the benefit of self-reflection is also key. It also gives me a great perspective on my management style and how she responds to certain things, that I can assess how my team might too. I can also offer Daisy insight into the role of a Senior Manager and what her own manager may be challenged with as well. I am honest with her and share personal experiences and my responses quite openly and I am grateful to have this space to do that in too.

Being able to offer support and leadership in this way really is a great privilege and it is something that I would very much like to pursue either with Daisy or someone else. I would highly recommend signing up to the programme to anyone – either as mentee or mentor as it is certainly an extremely beneficial part of personal development that is open to us in this field, when there is currently little else. Two of my team have also taken part as mentees and seeing their confidence and talent grow through this scheme is also a fantastic privilege as well.

And fingers crossed Covid ends soon, in one way or another. But I can safely say I can look back and see the positives of a pandemic for me not just the negatives.

Find out more about AVM’s mentoring scheme for members.

About Marie

Marie has worked in the charity sector for all her career, starting as the Office Services Assistant at CAFOD, gaining experience and skills in Volunteer management, community fundraising and events management along the way. She has been the Head of Volunteering at The Charity for Civil Servants for 10 years, leading the Volunteering Team through various initiatives and projects throughout this period.

As the largest non-occupational charity in the UK, The Charity for Civil Servants is entering into an exciting new strategic period and Volunteers are very much at the heart of it.

She is also a member of the Board of Governors for Millais Girls School, Horsham West Sussex.