Monday, October 11, 2010

Volunteer Coordination 101

Do you work with volunteers? In charge of a committee or two? Do YOU volunteer? I am a fan of finding a cause you can get behind and giving your time to help move that cause forward. We need check-writers, too, but the muscle behind the movement is where things tend to get tricky.

Since I have worked with volunteers in some capacity for the past 10 years, as well as volunteered myself, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on what makes for a successful volunteer experience. And, equally important, what does not. Here is a brief list. Do you volunteer or work with volunteers? Feel free to add your own thoughts. As a membership director, I would love to hear them.

1. Involve the volunteer where they want to be involved. Even though a volunteer may own a web design business, they might not want to "work" for your organization. While you should always try to take advantage of specialized skills and strengths, it should be up to the volunteer where they get to spend their donated time. If they ask to be on a specific committee, put them there.

2. Communication is key. Setting realistic expectations is crucial. You should have a volunteer job description detailing the kinds of skills needed to successfully work with the committee or project, as well as a description of how much time a volunteer can expect to work on the particular assignment.

Once key communication is laid out: FOLLOW-UP. You likely cannot communicate enough with a volunteer. Making them feel "in the loop", getting ideas, letting them know progress on goals, publicly acknowledging them and getting feedback throughout their time as a volunteer and after. I can;t stress this enough. Volunteers are giving you their time because they believe in your cause or vision and they want to know they are making a difference.

3. Involve them. All points hereafter are just crystallizing communication. If you have a committee, USE THEM. While it may be tempting to try to handle things yourself as staff or the volunteer leader, people, again, want to feel like they are contributing. Please let them.

4. Acknowledge their time and effort. While many volunteers do not want or need the recognition that isn't why they do it), it is a public acknowledgment of the time and effort they put in. Send a thank you card or e-mail and copy your supervisor or CEO. If they helped plan an event, thank them at the beginning and end, so that attendees know who to thank as well (or complain to!). Most importantly, it is much easier to get volunteers once you acknowledge that you have volunteers. Lots of people don;t realize committees, etc. exist. By thanking your volunteers publicly, you make the volunteers feel good and have a good chance of capturing more volunteers.

I have been involved in too many bad volunteer experiences to let it keep happening. Do you have advice? I would love to hear it!

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