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Ask Connie

She is an experienced volunteer manager, consultant and trainer. If you ask her...she will answer ...read below for questions and answers related to volunteer management and administration.

August Questions

Dear Connie:
The Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service (Australia) is compiling Adopt a Track guidelines for volunteers and park managers within the State. I would be interested in obtaining any handbooks (or table of contents thereof), feedback forms from your volunteers, etc., that you may have produced for adopt a trail programs. Anything that may be of use to us would be appreciated.
Thanks for your assistance and I look forward to hearing from someone soon!

Jo in Tasmania, Australia


Dear Jo:
I am taking the liberty of forwarding your information request to Michael Stills, the Volunteer Services Coordinator at Jefferson County (Colorado) Open Space. Michael is an excellent volunteer program manager, and he has a model program. I'm sure he will be happy to share his materials with you. Good luck!

Note to Readers: Michael generously forwarded to Jo 13 documents from his Adopt a Track volunteer program! Thanks, Michael, for taking the time to share your materials with a colleague!

Dear Connie:
I write you from the Volunteer Bureau of Alicante, Spain. I have a request from a person who wants to go to the U.S. to do voluntary work. He is looking for some non-profit organizations that could include him in his volunteering, in social effort (not environmental). I hope that you could send me some addresses about volunteering centers or nonprofit organizations in the U.S. that could work with foreigners, because my friend doesn't have email.

Miguel L., Oficina del Voluntariat d'Alacant, Spain


Dear Miguel:
Since your friend doesn't have email, you'll need to do some of the research for him. First, go straight to the Volunteer Today Web Site and find the page called "Volunteer Opportunities" It provides direct links to a wide variety of organizations that are seeking volunteers. You can link to the ones that you think would interest your friend and either send a query on his behalf or print out information for him.

Another resource for volunteer opportunities is the Independent Sector site at www.independentsector.org.Click on "Getting Involved" and you'll find a series of links to volunteering opportunities such as:

* Corporation for National Service
* Action Without Borders
* Volunteer March
* Youth Service America
* Points of Light Foundation Connect America Hotline
* Helping.org

You can also call the Points of Light Connect America Hotline at 1-800-865-8683. Then dial in the zip code of the area where your friend would like to volunteer. (For example, you could use 20008 for the Washington, DC area or 75201 for Dallas, Texas or 94127 for San Francisco, California.) Then you'll be connected with the Volunteer Center in that area to get information on volunteer opportunities in the community it serves. To find the zip codes for the cities in which your friend is interested in volunteering, visit the United States Post Office site at www.usps.com/ncsc/lookups/lookup_ctystzip.html. Simply enter the city and state, click on "process," and presto! You get the zip code. (Sorry for the "presto" reference! I'm reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and just got carried away!)

Two final resources are www.guidestar.org and www.helping.org. Both sites provide information about nonprofit organizations and giving opportunities.

So while I can't give you the names/addresses for specific volunteer opportunities, I can provide some resources for you. Happy Hunting!

Dear Connie:
I have been employed as the Volunteer Coordinator for a family hospice for about four months. I am planning a volunteer appreciation banquet. I was wondering if you could recommend how to organize one. I was also wondering if you could recommend guest speakers or what type of speaker I should look for.

Chris in Plainview, Texas


Dear Chris:
First, welcome to the wonderful world of volunteer program managers! I hope you're on the CyberVPM listserv so that you can connect regularly with your colleagues. (Visit CyberVPM at www.cybervpm.com for information on how to sign up!) Next, be sure to join the Association for Volunteer Administration (AVA) at www.avaintl.org so that you connect to the bigger world of volunteer administration.

There are three important elements in a volunteer appreciation banquet: Food, Folks, and Fun! Most banquets follow a standard format:

The main purpose of the event is to recognize your program volunteers for their time and efforts supporting your hospice organization. One way to accomplish this is to have an inspirational speaker - perhaps the executive director or board chairman of your organization who will put into perspective how the volunteers helped the organization to accomplish its mission. Or, perhaps there's a local official who's a good speaker - the mayor, city manager, police/fire chief, etc.

Some organizations give certificates or small gifts to volunteers for special "above and beyond" accomplishments. They also incorporate drawings for prizes to liven up their events.

I suggest you visit the CyberVPM site for all sorts of creative ideas on recognition events. Just click on "Volunteer Program" and then on the "Recognition" chapter. This will get you started on planning a successful volunteer appreciation banquet!

Dear Connie:
I am Volunteer Coordinator for about 200 volunteers at a public library. Some of them have been here for many years (longer than me) and are beginning to have difficulties with eyesight, hearing, accuracy on the computers, and the like. How can I deal with gracefully getting them to resign or move to a job they can do without so many errors? Some of them really see the library as their second home and are extremely reluctant to retire when it would be best for the library if they did. The staff doesn't want to hurt their feelings. They've done good service for many years. We have an Emeritus program so they can retire in an honorable way. There is a tendency among them to deny problems. We are working on introducing an evaluation system but it's extremely touchy and I am really wondering what to do about these devoted people.

T.A. in Arizona


Dear T.A.:
One of the challenges in working with older volunteers is how to manage them when they can no longer do the necessary work. And, there aren't any easy answers! One way is to have an evaluation system that you mentioned and it can be "touchy" to implement initially. Like so many things in volunteer administration, one size doesn't necessarily fit all. Here are a few options to consider:

  1. Talk to the volunteers with whom you have the most trusting relationship. Be honest and thoughtful in your conversation, explaining why it is best to move them to another task. You may be surprised to discover that several of these volunteers are relieved and will happily do something else.
  2. Stick with your evaluation system and implement it over time so that volunteers are moved regularly into other activities that match their skills and interests (not just those who with diminishing skills). Get some of your long-time volunteers involved in the implementation of it and seek their input on how to use it.
  3. Create an advisory group of long-time volunteers who work closely with you to orient new volunteers, update training materials, provide input on what's working and what isn't, etc.
  4. If all else fails, retire those volunteers who aren't able to do the necessary tasks. Make the retirement process one of celebration and inclusion - not one of being put out to pasture. Keep these volunteers in your communication loop and involve them in annual events and recognition activities.

We often think that there's some secret method to managing older volunteers. In my experience, the principles of effective volunteer management apply to everyone, regardless of age. Realistic task descriptions, regular two-way evaluation, and constant open communication go a long way toward solving the more difficult challenges we face in managing volunteer programs. Talk and work with the volunteers who are experiencing diminishing skills. You may just find that they will happily work with you on solutions!

Do you have a question? Now you too can ask an expert!

Connie Pirtle, of Strategic NonProfit-Resources, has 15 years' experience in working with volunteers. She has consulted and/or trained for such organizations as the Washington National Cathedral, Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Music America, and the Association for Volunteer Administration.

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Copyright 1998 by Nancy Macduff.