#Heartwork: Ms Gracie Ngoi

11 Jun 2024

Gracie Ngoi

Reflecting on her journey into her current role as Volunteer Manager at Yong-en Care Centre, Ms Gracie Ngoi exudes humility and a touch of whimsy. "Can I say it was accidental?" she muses, recounting her transition from managing and designing programmes at a Social Service Agency to overseeing volunteer engagement. Initially driven by the practical need to augment manpower, Gracie found herself drawn to the joy of bringing strangers together and watching them flourish in their roles.

Fostering a Positive Volunteer Experience

Yong-en’s Mid Autumn MoonWalk
Gracie (3rd row, 1st from right) with volunteers and service users at Yong-en’s Mid Autumn MoonWalk

Gracie firmly believes that cultivating a positive volunteer experience hinges on empathy and a steadfast dedication to personal and collective growth. She advocates for prioritising a volunteer’s need for continuous learning, meaningful social connections, and a strong sense of purpose, thereby ensuring that they feel appreciated for their contributions. By nurturing an environment that is supportive, Gracie aims to empower volunteers to thrive and make a meaningful impact within the organisation and the community at large.

"To understand this, begin by creating a personal list of the reasons why you yourself would want to volunteer, the theme of 'growth' often shows up - personal development (upskilling and training), social connections (new friendships, community), and a sense of purpose (advancing the mission and values of your organisation)" suggested Gracie.

Motivating Volunteer Leaders

Yong-en’s MoonWalk
Gracie lighting up the lantern in preparation for Yong-en’s MoonWalk.

Gracie shares her approach to motivating volunteers to step into leadership roles, highlighting the importance of personal connection and gradual empowerment. Volunteer leaders contribute by augmenting manpower and solving problems with the bonus of excellence pursued.

"When you notice that a volunteer is truly enjoying their role, consider asking if they are interested in taking on additional responsibilities. Engage in one-on-one conversations to build a strong rapport and encourage them to share their insights, provide solutions, express any concerns, and even challenge them to step into leadership roles. It's crucial not to overwhelm your volunteers; instead, establish a timeline and offer options to scale back if needed. We were able to successfully reinstate our Saturday Tuition program on-site with the assistance of such a leader, who played a key role in coordinating, scheduling, and even filling in for tutors who were unavailable. Sometimes a volunteer leader leaves behind a significant legacy for the next leader to live up to, potentially setting the bar too high. Nonetheless, having such a standard gives us something to strive towards!"

Challenges and Lessons

Purple Parade
Gracie (back row, 2nd from left) and volunteers at the Purple Parade

Navigating the realm of Volunteer Management can be a challenge. Give thoughtful placement to each volunteer as they contribute unique skills and talent to the organisation. Approach volunteers with a focus on their development, aim to create an environment where they can thrive and grow personally and professionally. This practice enhances the overall effectiveness and impact of the volunteer program within the organisation.

"Any endeavour that involves managing people, positions, and power is bound to present its own set of challenges. Exercising wisdom in the way volunteers are assigned to specific roles, and understanding the how, why, and when of these placements, can undoubtedly yield long-term benefits. At times, there may be a sense of urgency to quickly 'fill a gap' or 'plug a hole', leading to little consideration given to the comprehensive job description of the volunteer role. By approaching volunteers with a mindset focused on their development and personal growth, we can unlock their potential to contribute and achieve so much more” shared Gracie.

Support from Leadership

Yong-en's CEO, Mr Nicholas Lai and Board play an active and integral role in contributing to Volunteer Management, embodying a culture deeply rooted in service and support. Their involvement shows in their commitment to foster a collaborative and inclusive environment. Gracie maintains open and regular communication with the leadership team which serves to build understanding and ensures that volunteer initiatives are in sync with the overall organisational goals and vision.

"Yong-en's board members initially began their journey with the organisation as volunteers and continue to actively participate in on-the-ground activities. Their ongoing involvement is inspiring and beneficial, as they provide valuable support in managing teams of volunteers. Additionally, our CEO, Nicholas demonstrates unwavering support for our initiatives, regularly engaging in cross-departmental meetings to address specific volunteering needs. In fact, he graciously accepted an invitation to speak at the VMCD Outreach Session in July 2023. Furthermore, our colleagues have been receptive to our suggestions for adapting programs to better cater to volunteering needs, leading to the development of new and improved versions of initiatives such as our Food Distribution program" shared Gracie.

Gracie is modest about specific accomplishments, success to her is building alliances across departments and fostering a culture of mutual respect and passion.

"Effective Volunteer Management is a collaborative endeavour that necessitates the formation of a cohesive team across departments and the establishment of alliances with colleagues who can effectively communicate the organization's mission to volunteers. It is essential to recognise and appreciate each other's contributions and to demonstrate genuine appreciation for the volunteers who dedicate their time and effort to serve alongside us. This can be achieved through both our words and actions, as we share our collective passion for the cause."

Advice for Aspiring Volunteer Managers

Yong-en’s Volunteer Appreciation
Gracie (front row, 4th from right) with her volunteers at Yong-en’s Volunteer Appreciation

Inclusivity, resourcefulness, and resilience are important traits for aspiring Volunteer Managers. Drawing on Clifton StrengthsFinder’s concept of the "Includer," Gracie encourages a balance of warmth and problem-solving prowess.

""I believe that a key trait or strength of a Volunteer Manager is that of being an 'Includer'. According to the Clifton StrengthsFinder, an Includer is someone who seeks to expand the group so that as many people as possible can benefit from its support. They are averse to the sight of someone on the outside looking in and strive to draw them in so that they can feel the warmth of the group. An Includer is inherently accepting and inclusive. This trait, when complemented by the ability to take pride in problem-solving and resourcefulness, the skill to rally others for the greater good, and the capacity to bring positivity and humour to challenging situations, can greatly contribute to one's enjoyment of their work and their ability to overcome future challenges." .

To Gracie, Volunteer Management is more than a role—it's a calling to cultivate community, one relationship at a time.

Are you a volunteer manager? Or interested to be one? Check out our Volunteer Resource Hub for tools and knowledge to help you excel in your role and make a lasting impact in your community.