When a heart-centered approach becomes part of your program’s routine, your volunteers stick around

Heart-centered volunteer management - Twenty HatsDoes it surprise you that many − and perhaps most of the people who gravitate to volunteer engagement have studied things like psychology, sociology, or social work?

I know this because I once threw out a pop survey on my Facebook page asking what followers studied in college.

Just about everyone who responded majored in these people-oriented subjects, with a few nonprofit studies majors thrown in for good measure.

The results of my very non-scientific survey make sense, since volunteer engagement is such a people-oriented profession.

What we may not appreciate is that our gift for working with people is the very thing that help us create great outcomes in our programs.

I think of a program I talked with last summer when I was creating a webinar on volunteer retention for Girls on the Run (GOTR) International.

As part of my webinar prep I was asked to interview one particular program, the GOTR New Jersey North Council, because of their amazing outcomes − 80% of their coaches return from…

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How do you handle it when your workplace gets reactive?

Volunteer Managers - Reactivity - Twenty Hats

  • Ed’s boss gets back from a networking meeting and hears that three other agencies have started Pinterest boards for their volunteers. The boss wants to know why their program hasn’t got one. Ed decides he better put aside his plans and start one before the week is out – or maybe even begin today.
  • Marie drops into Nancy’s office upset because another co-worker ticked her off. Nancy stops working and spends half an hour trying to calm Marie.
  • The results from the Celia’s volunteer satisfaction survey included six suggested changes to volunteer training. The staff wants to incorporate them all before the next training – and that’s only four weeks away.

Reactivity. It’s so easy to get sucked into it, especially when everyone around you seems to operate the same way.

Plus, reactivity plays into our desire to align with others. It feels good to jump on the bandwagon, like we are being a good team player.

But here’s the challenge: addressing our work with a large dose of reactivity keeps us stuck in manager-mode, putting out fires…

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What happens when an experienced volunteer engagement pro combines her commitment to her organization with creative problem solving?  She builds an innovative program that benefits her clients and the larger community.

Lynne A PostLynne Allebach, CVA is the Volunteer Coordinator for Living Branches, a retirement living community in Southeastern Pennsylvania.  She is celebrating her 15th year with the organization, which she found after looking for a place to volunteer with her daughter.  Volunteering led to a staff positon, which eventually led to heading up the volunteer program. “I fell in love with the people and the facilities. It was too hard to leave.”

The Idea

In 2014, Lynne was contacted by the coordinator of a vocational training program for special needs students at the local high school. The vocational coordinator wanted to start a job training program for her students and was looking for a nearby location ─ Living Branches is located just five minutes away. The students would volunteer their time throughout the community in exchange for job training.

The timing of the proposal couldn’t have been better. Lynne had been looking for a way to tap into a…

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VolunteerMatch’s Tess Srebro observes what’s top of mind for us

Serving Volunteer Managers - Twenty HatsSometimes, the best way to gain perspective on our work is to speak with someone NEAR the field rather than IN the field.

Tess Srebro counts as one of those nearby people. She is the Marketing Manager at VolunteerMatch. Tess represents the public voice of the organization in some important ways: editing not one but two blogs, managing the organization’s content calendar, social media, email campaigns, and probably a bunch of other responsibilities that did not make it to this list.

I got curious about Tess’s perspective on volunteer management through her role as editor of the Engaging Volunteers blog, which features content relevant to just about every volunteer engagement pro out there.  And as the promoter of content, she sees of what’s top of mind for most of us right now.

So what’s the number one most clicked-on, shared, and commented-on type of blog post?  Here are three possibilities:

  1. Retention
  2. Recognition
  3. Recruitment

If you picked b, you are right on the money.  According to Tess, any post about volunteer appreciation receives the most activity.  As the people-centered heart…

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If you want success tracking volunteer prospects, retention — or anything else, you need one of these

Volunteer Management Systems - Twenty HatsIf you are an experienced volunteer engagement professional with a solid infrastructure and sound practices in tracking your program, you may not need to read this post.  Feel free to click out – although I’d love your feedback

And if you are newer to the volunteer management world, keep reading.  We’re talking this week about something straightforward and essential for any well-run volunteer program.

Having a database.

The subject came to mind last week when I facilitated a roundtable for Volunteer Alexandria on volunteer retention.

This particular group was great because they had such a strong grasp of the two sides to volunteer management: relationship-building and the need for systems.

We spent a lot of time discussing the fun part of our work − interacting with volunteers and recognizing their value – and just as much time discussing the equally important but less exciting subject of volunteer management systems (VMS).

That’s because having a system is necessary if you want to lead and grow a successful volunteer program.

That’s because the VMS is the keeper…

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This volunteer engagement pro knows how to run a program that’s structured AND flexible – her motto sums it all up

Three catchy words- Twenty HatsIf you have gone through the process of becoming Certified in Volunteer Administration (CVA), you have probably done some extra thinking to articulate your philosophy of volunteer engagement. Just about every volunteer engagement pro operates with an underlying belief about what and how to engage volunteers – it’s just that we don’t think of it on a daily basis.

So I was impressed when I spoke with Trina Mayhan-Webb about the program she leads. Trina is the Director of Volunteer Solutions, a government agency within Fairfax County, Virginia that uses volunteers to support seniors and adults with disabilities.

Volunteer Solutions is a huge program that engages 4,000 volunteers annually with a staff of 10. You would think that such a large government-operated program might take a bureaucratic approach to managing volunteers.

Not so.

Trina’s program may employ best practice standards, but Trina’s philosophy is anything but rigid. In fact she has a simple motto that sums it up:

Reach – Teach – Unleash

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Trying to work miracles with limited resources? The solution starts with a mindset shift

Many years back when I recruited and trained volunteers, I remember my counterpart at a sister program quitting. She had come from the corporate world into what she hoped would be a more fulfilling job and got discouraged by the lack of resources for marketing the program.

At the time, I thought to myself” “Well, what did this person expect? It’s a nonprofit – we always have to make do with very little.”

Just like the fairy tale maiden in Rumpelstiltskin, we try and spin straw into gold.

The irony is that at the time my program had a grant to help us recruit volunteers. The funds from that grant covered paid ads for the program that we ran in local newspapers and even on television.

Those ads increased our inquiries exponentially. And sure enough, our numbers dropped when the funding ran out. When that happened, I returned to my usual strategies for volunteer recruitment, doing the best I could with what I had and never seeing the same results.

TED explains it all

I am reminded of that experience whenever…

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Real top down support starts with the board and the strategic plan – and you have a role to play

A Place at the Table - Twenty HatsA question: when it comes to running your volunteer program, how would it feel if the Board of Directors had your back?

That’s what the volunteer director and her coordinators experience at Northern Virginia Family Service, where volunteer engagement is included in the strategic plan.  This organization sends a great message about volunteers and how they are valued for their capacity-building potential.

This message got me thinking: how many other nonprofits are this enlightened about the power of volunteers to advance a program’s mission?

Certainly I know of organizations that don’t acknowledge volunteers at the highest level. I recall one former workplace of mine that relied heavily on volunteers but chose not to mention volunteering in the strategic plan nor include information about the state of volunteerism in the environmental scan.  As if dollars were the only resource that mattered.

It’s easy to feel unrecognized in a situation like this and see only the barriers to creating a fully integrated volunteer program. But it…

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This program manager earns the apple for her volunteer training methods

Whats Volunteer Training All About - Twenty HatsOf all of the phases of volunteer management that I blog about: marketing, screening, supervision, leadership – there is one thing I have not touched upon, and that’s training.

So I decided that the time had come to explore what’s important in a volunteer training program, and for that I turned to Amia Barrows.

Amia is the Program Manager for a sister program to my former workplace – Newport News CASA. She also sits on the National CASA Association’s Curriculum Development Committee, where she helped create an innovative flex training program. Amia has been active in the CASA world for over 11 years: this woman lives and breathes quality volunteer management.

Volunteers Who Can Meet the Mission

Knowing that Amia played a part in developing a nationally standardized training curriculum, I anticipated our conversation to be all about adult learning principles and educational techniques. After all, this is training – how do we help volunteers learn best? Amia is plenty competent in those areas, but that’s not what we discussed. Instead, she focused on…

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Do older volunteers challenge your feedback?  Here are three tips for millennial volunteer managers

Supervising older volunteers - Twenty HatsOne of the advantages of working alongside volunteer engagement pros is that I get to pick up on common concerns within our profession.  Recently one of these all-too-common themes emerged when I facilitated a session on supervising volunteers.

Some of my students − very capable volunteer managers in their twenties, shared how difficult it was to work with volunteers who were a generation or two older than themselves.  They talked about their discomfort in giving direction to very experienced volunteers who sometimes challenged their feedback.  They found the supervision process discouraging because the older volunteers did not seem to take them seriously.

That got me to wondering: perhaps this issue has very little to do with the volunteers.  Perhaps, if you are a lot younger than your volunteers, you need to take yourself more seriously.

Think about it. 

Any volunteer who comes into your program and undergoes screening and training has implicitly agreed to abide by your program’s rules.  That gives you plenty of authority to provide direction when you need to – even if…

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