Guest blogger Lisa Marie Porter, MA, CVA, empowered her volunteers to help her solve an unexpected problem. The results are pretty creative.

At the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, we take the practice of volunteer nametags one-step further than usual.

Even though our public engagement volunteers wear official credentials that designate them as ‘Volunteers,’ we still ask them to pin a special nametag to their uniform.

The idea behind it? To make personal connections with our visitors. The nametags share first names-only to make the volunteers more approachable, with the designation ‘Volunteer’ printed in the upper right-hand corner.

We thought our volunteers were perfectly happy with their nametags – until our museum went through a rebranding initiative. When we presented the volunteers with the new look of the nametags, we received some pretty vocal push-back.

The Problem

Our volunteers objected strongly to the use of the word ‘Volunteer’ on the nametag. They argued that the tags seem redundant and do not add anything to the volunteer’s or visitor’s experiences.

Even though the new nametags looked exactly the same as the…

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Does your professional growth resemble this path to success?

Jason Frenzel, CVA, ended up in volunteer engagement by setting the woods on fire.

Don’t be alarmed. Jason’s not a firebug. He’s a committed environmentalist, who took part in a prescribed ecological burn program for the City of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

That was back in 1999, shortly after Jason graduated from college with a degree in Resource Management. Jason’s best friend was involved with the city’s natural restoration program, where groups of volunteers would assist with prescribed forest burns to protect and restore native habitat.

“I loved volunteering. I loved helping out with the burns and I fell in love with the people,” says Jason.

That volunteer experience, which Jason enjoyed while serving with Americorps, eventually led to a seasonal volunteer manager position with the City of Ann Arbor.

Over time, the seasonal position was made into a permanent Director of Volunteer Management and Outreach role. In that position, Jason was able to grow his department to include six more staff working under him. That’s an impressive accomplishment in the…

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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…

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We know our volunteers deserve the thanks of our staff, but how do we do it?

volunteer-thanks-video-twenty-hatsJenna Jones had a problem.

The date and time of her annual volunteer appreciation event had changed: what was once a weeknight dinner affair was now a Saturday morning breakfast.

While a weekend breakfast might work well for volunteer schedules, it meant that fewer staff might be present. And if fewer staff were present, how would they thank the volunteers for their contributions?

Fortunately, Jenna, who is a CVA and Volunteer Coordinator for the Smithsonian Associates, had a solution.  She had seen another nonprofit create a video of staff thanking the volunteers. Why not create a thank you video for her own program?

Serendipity helped to move things along. Right around the time she started thinking about a video, Jenna happened to interview a prospective volunteer with video-making experience who agreed to take on the project.  Ten months later, the thank you video aired at the October, 2016 breakfast to rave reviews. Volunteers applauded. (Staff applauded, too, when they saw the video…

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Why practice makes perfect when it comes to interview questions

I discovered something last week.

There’s a better way to explain something that I’ve been teaching and sharing for a long time.

It all started when I led a fun and thought-provoking training for 20 volunteer managers from the Smithsonian and other DC-based museums.

The topic was one of my favorites – behavior-based interviewing. It’s an incredibly effective method for screening high-commitment, highly specialized kinds of volunteers such as docents, tour guides, and educators – the kind of volunteers that museums engage all the time.

If you follow this blog, you know that I love to geek out on behavior-based interviewing and have written about it before. That’s because I experienced the benefits of the behavior-based approach first-hand back in my CASA program: within two years of adopting this interview method, our new volunteer drop out rate decreased from 25% to 2%, and our retention rate increase from 29% to 48%. Those are the kind of outcomes that any volunteer manager yearns for because they mean our jobs…

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Taking this survey may help you diversify your staff, increase your budget, or even get a raise

It’s quite possible that you are already familiar with Tobi Johnson’s Volunteer Management Progress Report Survey. If not, you’re going to want to be part of this year’s effort.

Besides the wealth of information about our collective professional experience, the survey results may affect your bottom line.

“I know of one volunteer manager who took last year’s survey results to her board,” Tobi explains.

“She used those findings to back up how she expanded her volunteer program – and she got approval for a larger program budget.

“And just last week a volunteer manager came up to me at a conference. She, too, took the report to her board, made the case for a higher salary, and got a raise.

“Those are just two examples that I know of and I bet there are many more. The survey is having a positive impact for people.”

Launched just two years ago, the survey is a large-scale effort to capture information from volunteer managers themselves…

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One CVA’s take on why volunteer engagement is so darned hard

Leaders of Volunteers – what if I told you that managing volunteers was one of the hardest jobs out there? Would you buy that?

I mean, you know it’s a challenging job. But would you categorize it as one of the very hardest?

CVA Jerome Tennille thinks so.

In fact, Jerome believes he’s worked harder trying to manage a volunteer program than he did on some assignments in the military – and he’s not exaggerating.

Jerome served as a Navy intelligence analyst for eight years before moving into the nonprofit sphere. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s been featured before in Twenty Hats.  Jerome is the Senior Manager, Impact Analysis & Assessment for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPs), an organization that provides comfort and care to military families who have lost a loved one serving in the Armed Forces.

But for five and a half years prior to shifting roles, Jerome lead the TAPS volunteer effort, where he built a volunteer program…

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Aretha sings about it. We all talk about it. How much does self-respect affect your workplace decisions?

Joni realizes that it would help volunteer recruitment to schedule some of the volunteer trainings on weekends. Making that decision requires her boss’s approval – but her boss is always so busy and Joni hates to interrupt her. Joni feels caught between respecting the needs of her volunteers and respecting the needs of her boss.

Kristy has worked 10 hour days ever since her program’s budget got cut and she lost her volunteer coordinator. She’s exhausted and finds herself up at night trying to plan all the things that need to get done the following day. But Kristi hesitates to mention her situation to her supervisor – she doesn’t want to seem like she’s not pulling her weight in a tough situation.

Pat has a volunteer who is rude to the clients on a regular basis – there have been numerous complaints. She knows she needs to talk with the volunteer but she keeps putting it off because difficult…

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Guest Blogger Erin Spink has plenty of ideas for demonstrating volunteer impact

For many years, a gold standard that many board, funders and leaders of volunteers have touted like an Olympic Gold Medal is the number of hours volunteers contribute to the organization. It is included in Board Reports and Annual Reports, it is submitted to funders and stakeholders with pride. Behind the scenes, both volunteers and Volunteer Managers alike are driven nuts counting, submitting, collecting and inputting these numbers. And for what?

Too many Volunteer Engagement professionals tell me how strapped they are for time, how they wish they could spend less time on basic administrative tasks, like counting hours, especially when hours tell us nothing of the difference volunteers have made or the steps forward we’re taking towards delivering on our organizational missions because of their involvement.

Here’s a simple timesaver:

Whenever possible, stop counting volunteer hours – or at least explore how you might streamline the process.

If you’re absolutely required to submit volunteer hours, see if it’s possible to use a simple mathematical computation, such as…

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Or, how child development can teach us a thing or two about speaking up

I have never forgotten something that I learned back when I worked for a CASA program.  At the time, there was a therapist who could come in and give inservices on child development. This therapist used to say that people need two important things for healthy emotional development.

  • To have their thoughts and feelings validated, and ―
  • To be admired

This principle has resonated for me ever since because it doesn’t just apply to infants and children. As adults, we still need to be seen and recognized – even when others disagree.

Think about the last time you were in conflict with someone. Did you feel validated and admired? No, of course not. And I bet it was the lack of validation or admiration that made you feel angry or resentful.

Now think about a time when you felt a connection to someone else, secure, and trustful that this person was in your corner. Chances are that you felt seen, affirmed, and supported.

When you’re a child, an able…

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