How to Manage Staff Partner Changes
By Isabel Bayer
As a longtime American Cancer Society volunteer, I have worked with a number of different staff partners over the years. Some of them have also been longtime volunteers, and others have been completely new to the organization. Regardless of their level of previous involvement with the American Cancer Society (ACS), it is always possible to have a positive, constructive relationship with your staff partner. With many recent staff changes occurring at many levels of ACS leadership, we wanted to provide some tips and suggestions on how to navigate these staff partner changes in a positive way to establish a great relationship and make your ACS On Campus chapter and/or campus event as great as it can be.
Understand that every Relay For Life/ACS event is different
Whether or not your staff partner has staffed or volunteered for other ACS events before, campus or community, or is completely new to ACS, the most important thing you can do is understand that every school, community, and event is different. There will be things they do not know about your event, and you will probably have to teach them about what your event looks like, how your ELT works, what has worked and has not in the past, and much more. There is a huge learning curve that comes with being a staff partner, as they need to learn the intricacies of every event they staff, all of which could run completely different from each other.
The best thing you can do is think of some things you would want to know about your event if you were in their shoes. Your empathy and understanding goes such a long way and can help build an amicable relationship between you and your staff partner.
Communicate openly and honestly with your staff partner
Open and honest communication is key in any relationship, whether it is work or personal, and will ensure a more healthy, positive relationship between you, your committee, and your staff partner. If you have any questions, concerns, or things you would like to discuss with your staff partner, don’t be afraid to talk about them in an honest way. They are here to help you and make sure your event is the best it can be.
Consider signing a partnership agreement with your staff partner
Partnership agreements are a great way to establish expectations for your relationship with your staff partner. This agreement includes the best method of communication, goals of both you and your staff partner, and many other expectations that will help build a solid foundation for your professional relationship. We encourage all leaders to make partnership agreements with your staff partner, and with your committee members as well. Find a copy of the staff partnership agreement here and the volunteer partnership agreement here.
Give yourself time to process these staff changes
Staff changes can be really tough to deal with, not only in terms of event planning, but also emotionally. It is completely normal to need some time to grieve and process the transition of getting a new staff partner, and don’t be afraid to share these feelings. It’s ok to express these emotions to your new staff, as they will understand your position and do what they can to assist you in this transition.
Additionally, when taking time to emotionally process staff changes, avoid comparing previous staff partners to your new one. Every staff partner brings new perspectives, experiences, and strengths to the table, as does every volunteer. Your new staff partner may not have the same strengths and experiences as your last one, but they also bring a lot of great new insight that could make your event even better.
Be open minded to suggestions your new staff partner may have
Keeping an open mind is crucial for a smooth transition to your new staff partner. As previously mentioned, your new staff partner will not bring the same experiences as any past staff you have worked with, but they do have many new perspectives you may not have considered before.
Your first instinct may be to defend the way your organization or event has always done things, and your committee may feel like the experts. Your feelings and expertise are completely valid and should be considered, but it is also important to consider fresh, new insights that your new staff partner brings to the table. At the end of the day, they were chosen to work with your ACS On Campus Chapter and/or Relay For Life event for a reason, so don’t shut down their ideas right away, even if they are different from the way your event has always done things.
How to talk through the transition to ACS On Campus
The transition from Colleges Against Cancer to ACS On Campus may be tricky to navigate as a leader of your chapter and/or event, and it can be even more difficult if you have to handle a staff transition at the same time. To make both transitions smoother, communicate honestly with your staff partner where your campus is in the transition to ACS On Campus and express what your campus needs moving forward.
Regardless of where your campus stands in the transition to ACS On Campus, don’t panic. The transition won’t happen overnight, and that’s completely okay! The biggest thing that will change is the name and branding of your event. If you aren’t 100% ready for a full transition or restructure of your organization’s structure, just focus on name changes for now. Update your event’s name on social media to Relay For Life of [your event name] powered by ACS On Campus, or ACS On Campus at [your campus name]. Additionally, begin working with your administration to change your organization’s name on campus and make necessary changes.
If you’re having some trouble on how to handle the transition to ACS On Campus, talk to other schools that have already made the transition. Every campus is different and will have to go through different processes to shift to ACS On Campus, but learning from other campuses is a great way to learn how to start. Additionally, feel free to reach out to the NCLT with any questions or concerns, we are more than happy to help!
Start thinking red and blue instead of just thinking purple. The goal of transitioning to ACS On Campus is to ensure people know that Relay For Life, Colleges Against Cancer, and other campus events are all in support of the American Cancer Society.
Understand that the mission of ACS is more important than personal differences
In professional experiences, there are always instances where you may not get along with everyone you work with. This is completely normal, and sometimes these professional relationships can be difficult to navigate. It is very important to consider the mission of ACS during these transition periods. We all volunteer or work for ACS with the same goal in mind: to finish the fight against cancer. You may have personal differences with a new staff partner, with ELT members, or volunteers, but be cognizant that you all have the same common goal that is much more important than these personal differences.
Get to know your staff partners further than your ACS relationship
Last but not least, one of the easiest ways to build a positive relationship with your new staff partner is to not only get to know them on a professional level, but also on a personal level. Getting to know their interests, experiences, etc outside of just ACS can help you develop a trusting and positive relationship.
Prepare for future potential staff changes by setting up transition contingency plans
In the nonprofit sector, employee turnover is generally more common than other fields of work, and ACS is no exception. Future staff changes may still happen, so take some time to create a transition contingency plan and establish strong relationships in case staff turnover does occur again. Keep records of ELT positions, meeting agendas, event data, and other important documents and information that would be helpful for future ELT members.
Additionally, ensure you establish strong connections with your administration, advisors, and past volunteers, your RCLT, and NCLT; all of whom you can look to for guidance when you need it. Securing these relationships will be very beneficial for many reasons, one being you have people to turn to for guidance if you do experience staff turnover again.