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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Need more hours in your work day? Liza Dyer has an app that might find you time to spare

togglHow much time do you spend interviewing potential volunteers? Between April 1 and December 1, I have spent 54 hours, 18 minutes, and 6 seconds on interviewing and placing volunteers. I know this because I use Toggl to track my time at work. Toggl is a simple time-tracking app and website where you can record how much time any task or project takes.

I use the free version which, so far, has served all my needs. There are tons of features, but I use it for the most basic: knowing how long something took me. (There are also paid packages if you need additional features.) Toggl offers free reports so you can review your projects over the last week, month, year, or a set period of time. One of my favorite things about Toggl is that it can integrate with Gmail, Google Docs, and Trello—all of which I use daily—if you download the free Google Chrome extension. The extension activates a button in Gmail, Google Docs, and Trello so…

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When a short exercise went a long way towards staff engagement

engaging staff with volunteers - twenty hatsIn my local DOVIA, one of the most common workshop topic requests is “How to get staff on board with volunteer management.” It’s a complex subject, most likely because staff engagement brings us into the murky world of soft interpersonal skills. We anticipate barriers and may feel discouraged about achieving any sort of progress.

Sometimes, though, a hard skill exercise goes a long way towards nurturing staff engagement.

That was my recent take-away when talking with a volunteer coordinator who participated in my recruitment planning course. As part of the course she ran what I call a ‘DNA Study’of her successful volunteers.

In a ‘DNA Study’ you ask co-workers who supervise volunteers to provide a list of their most successful volunteers. Then, you run the demographic data to see what commonalities surface. The information is priceless when developing a profile of your ideal volunteer.

Unexpected Results

When my student ran her DNA study, she uncovered plenty of interesting findings about her volunteers – AND she noted one unexpected consequence: the process engaged the staff. Being consulted about the volunteers…

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Get those favorite projects off the back burner — even when it seems time like there’s not enough time

Laughing at Time - Twenty HatsDoes this sound like you?  You have a project that is all your own, something that would really benefit your nonprofit and be fun to implement – a special program for your clients or a new training for your volunteers, but there is so much other work on your desk that the project never takes off.

The “too much work to get the fun and exciting stuff done” is an issue I hear lot from volunteer managers.  It’s a complaint uttered wistfully because we spend so much time attending to the needs of others.  Our jobs would feel so much more fulfilling if only we could put our mark on them.

Partly, we put the needs of others first because that’s why we do nonprofit work in the first place.  We want to improve the quality of life for other people.

More than that, not getting to our own projects may be a symptom of the scarcity mindset so often found in nonprofits, where we put all our energy into retaining…

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Happy Nonprofit Happy Volunteers - Twenty HatsMeet Joe Landmichl (not the fellow to the left — see below). He’s the volunteer manager for the Grand Rapids Public Museum, and one of the most impressive people that I met at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service.

What makes Joe a standout? It’s his talent for engaging volunteers of all ages within the museum. Joe places volunteers everywhere: as educators, as graphic designers. Joe even has volunteers working in the museum’s accounting department.

Joe was hired by the museum just six months ago, and in that time has already doubled the number of active volunteers – imagine what his program will look like a year from now.

A Staff That WANTS Volunteers

I hear from a lot of volunteer managers who find it incredibly difficult to get the buy-in of staff to work with volunteers. Not so for Joe – and that’s why I wanted to interview him. I wanted to know what it is about Joe’s approach that makes it so easy for staff to embrace the use of volunteers.

 Joe Landmichl talks up...
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Start a continuing ed program and watch your volunteers stick around

The secret sauce that retains volunteers - Twenty HatsWhat does a continuing education program do for your volunteer base?

Besides educating your volunteers, it’s the secret sauce that boosts volunteer retention.

That’s one of the great lessons I learned while managing volunteer training for Fairfax CASA.

CASA volunteers are required to complete 12 hours of continuing education each year in order to remain certified as advocates. The mandate keeps volunteers current on issues related to child abuse and neglect.

What I discovered was that our continuing ed program did much more than educate the volunteers: it also helped create a sense of community and belonging that kept volunteers engaged.

One year our volunteer satisfaction survey included over 125 (overwhelmingly positive) comments about continuing ed – everyone had an opinion about it—compared with only a few dozen comments around other questions. I knew that our program was on the right track when our volunteers found so much to say about their learning.

Ditch Your Appreciation Event?

Some volunteer programs get really bold with continuing ed. Take Lori Baker, who recently retired as head of a…

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Can your agency make it work with court mandated volunteers?  Laura Rundell weighs the pros and cons

Working with Court Ordered Volunteers - Twenty HatsMany of us have struggled to effectively utilize volunteer applicants with court-mandated service in a way that is both beneficial and safe for our agency. Some of these volunteers may have brought much needed skills or labor to your volunteer program. Others led to more negative experiences that made us question if it is worth the risk to accept applicants with court mandated service. If you work for a social services agency, providing a “second chance” may also be part of your mission.

If you are evaluating your agency’s policy about court mandated volunteers, or are just looking to make your program as effective as possible, here are some points that might guide your team’s decision.

  • Is your agency able to provide suitable supervision? If you serve youth, you have to weigh very different risk factors than if you organize community clean-ups, but in either case, volunteers (not just court mandated) must have some degree of supervision. Is your agency able to provide a level of supervision appropriate to…

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