A letter to nonprofits that want to hire a volunteer manager

The volunteer engagement community has a thing or two to say about hiring a top notch volunteer manager

Dear Nonprofit Decision-Maker,

If you are looking to hire someone to manage your volunteer program, please read this post.

Last July, I put out a crowdsourcing call to the volunteer management community. I asked them to please help me identify the skills and abilities that are most important when hiring a volunteer manager.

The thought was to create a webinar with all of the takeaways and offer it to leaders like you, to help you hire someone who will excel in the position.

The webinar is on hold, but the thoughtful responses from leaders of volunteers deserve to be shared.

And while I encourage you to check out the original post and review all of the comments, there are three observations that stand out to me as essential for success in this role. If you revise your hiring expectations based on what you read, you will not be disappointed.

1. Before you write the job description, get clear on the big picture

Volunteer management is much more than a matter of recruiting and scheduling volunteers. It’s a strategic position that brings community members into your organization – individuals who share an interest in your cause and a respect for your good work.

Your volunteer manager is the intermediary between these individuals and your organization. She’s responsible for meeting the needs of both sets of stakeholders.

That means that your position description must go beyond describing the mechanics of recruiting, screening, training volunteers to articulating how the role fits into your overall plan for growth.

As one commenter put it:

“The number of volunteers isn’t relevant. It’s relevant why you believe involving volunteers will make a difference. You need to fully understand how volunteers will help reach your goals before trying to engage them.” – Marie Holdt

Another very experienced professional described it this way in a LinkedIn forum:

“First and foremost: [look for] someone who thinks of volunteering as community engagement, not as free labor to do work. Secondly: someone who is great at helping other staff create assignments and support volunteers, who doesn’t see his or her role as the only one that interacts with volunteers but, rather, as the person that integrates volunteering into the organization and helps build the capacity of staff to involve volunteers. Thirdly: someone who not only has great organizational skills, but also loves exploring, learning and using new technologies in his or her work.” – Jayne Cravens

2. Find a great communicator

My initial call for crowdsourcing included the competencies that I considered most essential for volunteer managers to possess – things like organizational skills, a talent for creating systems, and adaptability.

Of all of these competencies, many responders listed communication skills as a top priority. Volunteer managers do not work in isolation. They are interacting constantly – with their volunteers, with staff, with the Board, and with the community.  You want to hire a volunteer manager who will excel at building relationships, even when they encounter resistance.

One commenter gave a great summation of just what communication looks like for a volunteer manager:

“We have to communicate to volunteers what the expectations of our agency are and what they in turn should expect from us. We also need to communicate to staff what is required to effectively manage and engage volunteers.

 

“If you are an effective volunteer coordinator, the staff you work with may not be aware of all that volunteers do at your agency because “things just get done”. Advocating on behalf of the volunteers and ensuring that the agency is aware of all they contribute is essential.

 

“Likewise, you often need to advocate on behalf of your organization to the volunteers. You may have to explain why an unpopular policy is necessary or why certain procedures must be followed.” – Laura Rundell, CVA

3. Good volunteer managers care about the community and your cause

As with fundraisers and meeting planners, volunteer managers may obtain a credential that sets them apart as highly skilled practitioners. If you receive a resumé from someone Certified in Volunteer Administration (CVA), that means your candidate has demonstrated her expertise in seven core competencies that are considered essential for effective volunteer management.  It’s an affirmation of the expertise and commitment of your applicant.

If you don’t receive any credentialed applicants, look to your volunteer corps for candidates (two commenters rated prior volunteer experience high on their lists). Or – adopt the approach of this CVA, who set her own standards for screening applicants:

“I became a supervisor in January and was tasked with hiring my replacement, Volunteer Coordinator. I ended up having 10 in-person interviews and must have looked at 60+ applications. I was willing to keep looking if I didn’t find the right person out of the 10 I chose to meet. I was looking for someone that could ‘speak my language’ in terms of volunteer management. I wanted someone with some kind of experience (either paid or unpaid) in working with the community, an interest in higher education, work experience in the field and that was truly interested in working for my organization.

 

“The applicant I chose initially emailed me directly (which I liked) about her interest and had a question for me. I could tell she read the job description carefully and it caused me to give attention to her resume. She did not have a CVA but was pursuing higher education and had worked for several notable nonprofits in my area.”  – Corina Sadler, CVA

One last thing…

…CVA Laura Rundell (see suggestion #2 for her comments) observed that nonprofit culture may be the biggest determinant of a volunteer manager’s success. Here are her words on the matter:

“I have found that the organizations in which I have felt the most effective as a volunteer coordinator were also the ones that made a concerted effort to make paid staff feel valued and appreciated. Put simply if you don’t value the contributions of your paid staff, it is harder to value the contributions of your unpaid staff. If an organization has a lot of staff turnover, it may also find it hard to retain good volunteers.”

Nonprofit leaders, if you want your volunteer manager to flourish, look way beyond the job description. Instead, make it clear in words and actions that every member or your organization has a valuable part to play.

Good luck in your hiring, and email me if you have any questions.

 

Want to boost your communication skills? My Six Principles of Buy-In will help ensure that your voice gets heard. Email me for the handout and worksheet, and I’ll add you to the Twenty Hats mailing list.  – Elisa

6 thoughts on “A letter to nonprofits that want to hire a volunteer manager

  1. Gretchen Jordan

    This is a terrific article that really encapsulates what many of us know to be true and have experienced. I encourage everyone to share this post on your professional networks! If you know of an agency that’s currently searching for new staff, send their way! When we read something this relevant, eloquent and timely, share, share, share!

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