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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.

July Questions

Dear Readers:

June was a light month for questions from you. So I'm taking this opportunity to share with you some miscellaneous thoughts and information that I've gathered during the month. I hope you find it helpful!


In June I answered a question about national organizations that provide volunteerism awards. Since then I found a terrific listing of a wide range of national volunteerism awards. Visit TxServe at www.txserve.org/mgmt/awards/n_awards.html and see for yourself. You'll find everything from America's Awards and the John W. Gardner Leadership Award to the Yoshiyama Award that recognizes high school seniors who have distinguished themselves through extensive service and leadership. Each listing has a hot link to the organization for more information about the specific award.

The Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin launched and manages the TxServe site for the Texas Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service. The TxServe site is designed to strengthen public engagement and volunteerism in schools, nonprofit organizations, public agencies, corporations, and community groups across Texas. It helps leaders mobilize concerned citizens by providing tools and techniques for working effectively with volunteers. The site also provides:

I encourage you to cruise around the entire site and take advantage of its many resources for volunteer program management information.

The Managers of Volunteer Programs in the Arts (MVP Arts) meet monthly here in Washington, DC, for "brown bag" discussions about a different volunteer management topic each time. The June topic was Managing Difficult Volunteers. You can imagine just how lively the discussion was, with people sharing their challenges and successes. At one point in the discussions, we focused on an article that will appear in the upcoming newsletter of the American Association for Museum Volunteers. The author, Steve McCurley, writes about "How to Fire a Volunteer and Live to Tell About It" and provides some very helpful tips for developing a system that will assist in confronting and managing the decisions to terminate a volunteer's relationship with your organization. He covers the philosophical issue of deciding that firing volunteers is, in general, a potentially appropriate action and counsels to look for alternatives, such as re-supervise, re-assign, re-train, re-vitalize, refer, and ultimately retire. Steve also provides a four-step process for developing a system when alternatives do not remedy "what ails your volunteer" and gives you the methods for communication to make the face-to-face meeting as effective as possible:

  1. Preserve the dignity of the volunteer by conducting the meeting in a private setting.
  2. Be quick, direct, and absolute. Practice the exact words you will use in telling the volunteer making sure they are unequivocal.
  3. Announce - don't argue. The purpose of the meeting is simply, and only, to communicate to the volunteer that he/she is being put on probation, suspended or separated from the institution. This meeting is not to discuss and argue the decision - if you followed the system, all arguments have already been made. You should also avoid confrontation, which may lead to you venting your feelings and risks putting your foot in your mouth. Expect the volunteer to vent, but keep yourself quiet.
  4. Don't attempt to counsel. If counseling were an option, you would not be having this meeting. You are not friends with this former volunteer and any attempt to appear so is misguided and insulting.
  5. Follow-up. Send a letter to the volunteer reiterating the decision and informing him/her of any departure details after your final meeting. Also follow- up with staff and other volunteers, who may be affected, but do not inform them of the reasons behind the change. In particular, make sure that any visitors, students or patrons with a long relationship with the volunteer are informed of the new volunteer to whom they are assigned.

For more information on AAMV and how to become a member (a $25 investment that's well worth it!), send me a message at cpirtle@compuserve.com.

When the Court Appointed Special Advocate Association held its annual conference in Washington, DC, in June, I had the honor of leading an all-day seminar on diversifying your volunteer base. Some 60 creative dedicated executive directors and volunteer managers attended the seminar, with ideas filling the air all day long. As I listened to them, I was reminded that today's volunteers - regardless of age, experience, or culture - are attracted to a well-organized and effective organization. Recruiting efforts begin with your best recruiting tool - your organization - and making it as "attractive" as possible. Some things to consider:

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.