Every manager of volunteers has a story about how they fell serendipitously into the role, and Maggie Stewart is no exception. She’s here to explain, in her own words, what being a leader of volunteers means to her. And after you learn about her signature Maggie Smile, don’t forget to do it at your next volunteer manager meetup!
From left to right: Maggie Stewart in the Amazon Rainforest, Nature Vancouver Scholarship Recipient, Certificate of Merit (Award for Civilian Bravery)
The path to becoming a volunteer management professional is one with the most diverse origins I’ve ever encountered. As is often the case, I discovered this profession through a mix of networking, luck and my own volunteer experience. It’s certainly not often that you hear the phrase “when I grow up, I want to be a volunteer management professional” and it certainly was not the case for me.
The five-year-old version of myself studied caterpillars and birds in her backyard and dreamed of tracking tigers in India or studying coral reefs (dreams courtesy of National Geographic documentaries). Ultimately that original curiosity and passion for study, lead me to pursue post-secondary studies in biology and other sciences. Eventually, my family started to call me an “education junkie” because of my seemingly insatiable thirst for education, knowledge, and experiences.
Through my studies at College, I continued to seek out and participate in as many of these things as I could. I became known as “the volunteer in plaid”, “the biology club president”, “the biology student who showed up to all the business workshops” – I engaged with the communities I was a part of and that engagement lead me to work with others that were engaged. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was destined for the student engagement and volunteer management fields because I was equipping myself with the tool kits I would need.
I realize now that walking through doors of opportunity is a theme for my life and for those in the volunteer management profession. Tempted by possibility, that curious five-year-old birdwatcher jumped her way into a career position at 23 by following her heart. It was not the first career position I expected to obtain but it was a great fit.
I think passion is typically overlooked when choosing a career. What you’re good at and how much money you can make seem to dictate the career choices of many of the young people I work with. The amazing part about the volunteer management (VM) sector is that it is abundantly full of people who do what they love. I feel that many VM professionals have had that moment where they walked up to a door of opportunity and entered because the door was marked: “Passion beyond this point”.
The “Maggie Smile”
From left to right: “Maggie Smiles” with Chinook Salmon, with student at orientation, with the Easter Bunny at work
Somewhere along the road, as I continued to walk through doors marked “Passion beyond this point”, my friends, family, and volunteers started to describe an interesting phenomenon. When I was truly in my element, surrounded by something I was passionate about, I smiled differently.
It was as if my face could not contain the enormous amount of excitement and joy that I was experiencing or that it wanted to broadcast it as loud as it could to those around me. Even when I was exhausted, the smile would still appear, especially in a photograph, as if wanting to express that “this moment in time was the best EVER.”
I started to notice it in photographs of me everywhere – when running an event through work, when playing softball or camping and when wrangling a fish or another animal. And it wasn’t long before it had a name to those who knew me: the “Maggie Smile”.
At work, it has even become a pose for photographs! It is not unusual to hear: “Okay so first, normal smile… okay now with your hands in the air… and okay everyone, “Maggie smile”!” If you would like to try it yourself, just give the biggest smile you can muster with a thumbs up – yes, that’s perfect. 🙂
However unintentional, it is very cool that a smile named after me now represents the excitement for a cause while volunteering. I also know that I am not the only VM professional that has experienced something similar to this. The energy and passion that we have shows up, not only in our smiles, but in the smiles of our volunteers, our clients, and everyone around us.
Keep working hard and keep smiling!