How would it feel to be part of a team that’s all pulling in the same direction? One volunteer manager shares her experience.
If you train volunteers, you have probably noticed that every group is a little bit different. Each one has its own personality and a special set of interests and challenges.
My last volunteer managers retreat had that same quality. It was different from my first one, not better or worse – just different.
One of the things that made it different was that we spent a lot of time talking about the relationships between volunteer departments and development teams. A few of the retreat participants reported directly to development directors and felt underappreciated. They voiced frustration about their supervisors’ limited view of what it takes to run a strong program– not fully understanding their needs or appreciating all of the resources that volunteers bring to the table.
There was one participant, though, who had an entirely different and completely positive experience with her development department. In fact, she is considered an integral and valued part of the resource-building team at her organization.
That person is Jessica Towers, whom you…
These three steps from an organizational change expert will help you speed the process for your volunteer program.
Remember “Nora” the volunteer manager? She was the one I introduced last week, who was responsible for everything volunteer-related, even though she was not the only staffer to interact with the volunteers.
The burden of responsibility for recruiting and retaining enough volunteers to meet demand was causing Nora considerable stress and leading her to question her abilities. But the real problem was that this volunteer manager worked within an organizational structure where the decision-making and the responsibility for volunteer results was not shared among the entire staff. It was a lopsided organizational system.
In a situation like this, someone like Nora has a choice to make:
- Either accept her position as-is and make the best of it (or find a more gratifying job)
- Step forward and initiate the change that will lead to more staff engagement.
Re-organizing a system seems like a move that needs to come from the top down. It can feel very daunting to initiate that kind of change from a mid-level position. But research shows that…
Part One: why it’s worth sharing the decision-making around volunteers
When I recruited and trained volunteers for a CASA program, the toughest part of my job was rejecting applicants. It gave me heartburn, quite frankly, to hear the disappointment or anger voiced by people who for one reason or another were not a good fit for our program – especially when they did not anticipate that they might be turned down.
One angry man warned me that it was “our loss” to reject him. Many, many others cried when they heard bad news that they did not expect. Over time, I reached a point where I simply could not tolerate the stress of turning away another person who did not see rejection coming their way.
So I asked my CASA supervisors for help – and a very specific kind of help: I asked them to let anyone they interviewed know up front that they might not be accepted into the program and to understand that the decision came down to fit and was not personal. We mentioned all of these things in our information session, but I needed their…
Volunteers and donors come in all shapes and sizes. Start speaking each person’s language with personas.
Last month I introduced you to Trudy, the persona who helped me recruit volunteers for my program.
So now you might be thinking, “Well that sounds like a fun project. But I’m not seeing the relevance. How will a persona help me on the job?”
Personas make it much easier to market your program. Instead of guessing at what appeals to a volunteer or donor, you have a “conversation” with the ideal version of that person. You learn about their needs and wants and then show that you have the solutions they seek.
You might event want more than one persona. Volunteer managers and development directors may create multiple identities to represent different groups of stakeholders.
And that’s when it gets interesting, because your messaging changes when you are “talking” to a completely different persona.
Let’s take an example.
Persona # 1 is Max. He is the 30-something manager of a big box store that has an employee volunteer engagement mandate. Max is always looking for volunteer opportunities where his staff can team up to help family-related…
If you want more buy-in for your volunteer program, start with a reframe of those limiting beliefs.
The more I coach volunteer managers, the more convinced I become that the pride and satisfaction we gain from running a high impact volunteer program hinges around one thing.
When we’ve got the buy-in of our leadership and co-workers to engage volunteers effectively, we can move mountains. When we don’t, the lack of buy-in IS the mountain that gets in the way of progress.
The whole buy-in question has been top of mind for me since last week, when the subject came up in my Leadership Circle and at my one-day retreat. Just about every participant had a buy-in challenge that they wanted to overcome ̶ bringing staff on board with engaging more volunteers, helping a supervisor see the commitment required for an effective program, showing development staff the resource-building potential of a strong volunteer base.
These issues really weigh on us. I see how discouraged my colleagues become when they can’t figure out how to turn things around. And I see how motivated they feel when they learn strategies that help them reach…
She’s back! Guest blogger Liza Dyer shares another one of the tech tools she uses for managing volunteers. If you try this one, you may wonder how you ever lived without it.
Is your to-do list a mile long? Are you unsure where that new volunteer is in the onboarding process? If these questions sound familiar, you may benefit from the tech tool Trello.
According to Trello, it’s “the easy, free, flexible, and visual way to manage your projects and organize anything.” As with many cloud-based services, Trello has various pricing levels for advanced features. For my purposes I’ve gotten everything I need out of the free version.
A little lingo might be useful before we get much further:
- Board – This is the basis for everything. You can have different boards for different projects. I have several boards including ones for weekly projects, communication planning, and volunteer recruitment.
- Lists – Many lists can be on a single board. Each list houses cards. For my weekly projects board I have the following lists: ‘Workin’ On It’, ‘Priority’, and ‘To Do.’ For the recruitment board I have these lists: ‘Currently Recruiting’,…
You don’t need six arms to get all your work done. Here’s a better way to start.
Sometimes what we really need to improve our volunteer management is a better handle on our workload – and sometimes we need a technological assist to get there.
That was the case for Barb Sheffer, CVA, a volunteer manager who decided to get intentional about taming her to do list. Barb is a member of my Leadership Circle, a group of talented volunteer engagement pros who are so committed to their work that they meet once a month to refine and expand on their skills.
Barb is the Volunteer Program Director for a national non-profit. She has a big job, managing volunteer programs locally and across the globe– a total of 4,000 volunteers worldwide.
It’s no surprise that Barb’s plate is beyond full on a daily basis. In addition to managing volunteers, she is responsible for the procedural part of the job (the unglamorous stuff like keeping manuals and job descriptions up to date) and for the big picture statistical analysis and forecasting that keeps her program aligned with the organization’s mission….
Leaving my volunteer management job was like starting a journey towards an exciting new POV
What can happen in fifteen months – besides another birthday, more gray hairs, and 53 blog posts under your belt?
That was the question that I posed to myself this week, when I decided it was time to take stock of what was different since I left I left my volunteer management job in March 2015 and went full-time as a trainer and writer about volunteer engagement.
It took about half a second to land on the biggest shift – and that’s my point of view about what’s possible in this profession. I came to this work from a CASA program, where we specialized in one type of volunteer – and switched to supporting the work of colleagues in all kinds of organizations where volunteers hold every imaginable type of position.
What I’ve found is that my new POV has less to do with transitioning out of hands-on management and more to do with my relationship to my peers. As a trainer, it’s my job help my colleagues become as capable and professional…
Guest blogger Laura Rundell shares her super-practical tips for conducting volunteer performance reviews that are worth the effort
There has been lots of discussion as a profession about how managing volunteers differs from managing paid staff. That could really be a topic for another conversation entirely. In order to manage your corps of volunteers effectively, I would argue that, just as we do for paid staff, volunteers need some formal performance review or evaluation process.
You may be wondering, though:
Why should I add one more item to my already overflowing plate?
Most volunteer managers don’t have a lot of extra time on their hands to take on one more task. However, conducting a formal evaluation meeting with volunteers helps achieve the following goals:
• It helps to ensure that the placement is a good fit for the staff and volunteer. There may be some volunteers who are reliable and consistent, but may benefit from a change in assignment. An annual review is a good time to assess their current placement.
• It lets volunteers know that they are accountable for meeting the expectations of the program and the assignment.
Great things happen for our programs when our work aligns with what we love to do
The more I work with volunteer engagement pros, the more I come to believe that we grow as our programs grow.
Take my friend and colleague Nikki Clifford. Nikki had never thought of herself as a volunteer manager. For many years she worked as an administrative assistant and then as a meeting planner – as someone focused on the operational side of things, implementing the ideas of others more than getting her own projects off the ground.
Meanwhile, Nikki found herself drawn to volunteering. She became involved with Single Volunteers of DC, a group that brings singles together to volunteer for nonprofit events. She loved the group so much that she volunteered to run the entire venture, managing dozens of events each month and coordinating hundreds of volunteers. She even met her husband, John, on an SVDC event.
But Nikki still pursued meeting planner positions, thinking that her volunteer pursuits were something she enjoyed on the side, more like a hobby than a profession.
All that changed when she saw a notice for…