I work along side a huge team of volunteers. They’re amazing, they’re challenging, they’re different and they’re assets to our organisation. This post from VolunteerPlainTalk is a must read for anyone in a volunteer organisation, especially those who do not manage or work alongside volunteers…
I’ve always wanted to see a small pamphlet entitled “Volunteer Services for Dummies” or maybe “Volunteer Management, The Cliffs Notes.” Then I could sneak around and slip that bad boy under the door of the executive director while he was at a conference on “How to Get Donors to Donate More.” The pamphlet would have a way to insert whatever author’s name would impress him, like maybe that consultant who he’s recently hired to tell him that he needs to get more donations.
So, forget the pamphlet. Let’s just list the ten top things that I wish CEOs would understand about volunteer services.
10. Volunteers do not sit by their phones waiting for us to call. Shocker! We don’t just “order up” volunteers when someone asks for eight volunteers who can work twelve-hour shifts, outside, tomorrow at 8am. Yeah, no one wishes it were that easy more than we volunteer managers. Asking volunteer Charles to prioritize volunteering with us over his other volunteering activities, his trip to Bermuda (that he’s saved years for), his managing of his elderly mother’s affairs, and his scheduled surgery might just be a tad unrealistic. It takes a wise volunteer manager to know how to balance volunteers’ experiences so that volunteering is not burdensome and they look forward to coming in to help.
9. Managing volunteers is not like managing staff. Wow, bigger shocker! Unless managing two to ten times the number of very diverse people who only work maybe four hours a week without pay is the same thing. Instead of a paycheck to dangle, volunteer managers must use real leadership skills to inspire and coordinate volunteers. Think of it this way. Volunteers typically spend about 4 hours a week volunteering while you, the Executive Director and your staff spends upwards of 40 or 50 hours a week working for the organization. That’s at least ten times the amount of “plugged in time” you have over volunteers. Do you think that the volunteers spend the other 36 hours thinking about our organization? If not, volunteer managers must be able to “plug-in” volunteers every time they arrive on scene, motivate them to achieve that connection and keep them informed of changes and updates.
8. Volunteers are everyone’s responsibility. What?!!! The CEO is thinking, “Then what do I pay YOU, the volunteer manager for?” Staff doesn’t necessarily see working with volunteers as part of their jobs, but any staff can make or break a volunteer’s experience. Look at it this way. What if you, the CEO cultivates a donor by spending your time and sweat to encourage and inform and then another staff member comes along and insults that potential donor? It’s no different with volunteers. We need you, our CEO to set the tone. So if deep down, you are thinking that volunteers are not really time donors but are just fluffy side dishes, then please stop saying things like “we can’t operate without our volunteers.”
7. Volunteer managers are real managers. “Hmmm,” the executive director might be thinking, “No way, not in the same way our manager of fund-raising is!” Well, no matter what you call them, coordinators, specialists or team members, volunteer managers are as much a manager as anyone on your staff. The list of skills needed to lead and cultivate a team of volunteers (see #9 and #6 and #4 and #3 and #2 and #1 and oh heck, all of them ) is quite extensive.
6. Volunteers want meaningful work. “So,” the CEO may be thinking, “but I often need some meaningless stuff done. Who will do it?” That’s true, but volunteers do not want to just do what the staff doesn’t want to do, they want real jobs that make a difference. And since we don’t pay them, maybe we should…