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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.

Send questions to cpirtle@compuserve.com

March Questions

Dear Connie:


I've decided to put in writing some things about staff and volunteer relationships that I hope will help strengthen those that exist in my organization and maybe even create new ones. I may even create guidelines for paid staff working with volunteers. Any advice?

Karen, in Tulsa

Dear Karen:

I believe that productive volunteer/staff partnerships are characterized by:

  1. Two-way communication to inform both staff and volunteers about "who's doing what, when, and how"
  2. Team building that involves volunteers in all levels of the organization's planning and decision making to increase the ownership of its goals by everyone
  3. A clear understanding by volunteers of all institutional roles including their own
  4. Open and honest evaluation of volunteer activities by both staff and volunteers
  5. Public and private recognition of the accomplishments of volunteers and their staff partners

My favorite approach to guidelines for staff and volunteers is one of "expectations" for both. I've listed a few examples below so that you get the idea. Expectations are sometimes more easily accepted than "rules" or "guidelines."

Volunteers can expect: Staff members can expect:
  • to be trained for the tasks they will do
  • to understand how their work fits into the organization
  • to be thanked for their efforts
  • for their staff partners to be courteous, kind, and thoughtful
  • for volunteers to show up on time for assignments
  • for volunteers to be respectful of the demands on staff time
  • to be thanked for their efforts
  • for their volunteer partners to be courteous, kind, and thoughtful

If you're looking for specific examples of guidelines for staff working with volunteers, here are a few to consider:
  • the types of things that volunteers do (and don't do)
  • who volunteers are and what their backgrounds are
  • what volunteers contribute to the organization
  • the role of staff members in designing volunteer jobs, recruiting, screening, and supervising
  • what to do when problems arise (volunteers who don't dress appropriately, eat on the job, don't behave appropriately, etc.)
  • who supervises whom and about what (lines of communication, supervision, etc.)
  • what not to do with volunteers (personal errands, meaningless/repetitious tasks, get angry, yell, etc.)
  • how to recognize and reward volunteers (give specific examples)
  • explain what's in it for the staff if the volunteer program works
  • how to evaluate volunteer performance (create an evaluation form for staff to use)
  • erase any stereotypical images of volunteers (little old ladies with blue hair)

Also, be sure to check out these web sites for resources:

Dear Connie:

I am doing research on the motivation for volunteerism at the community college/university level. Could you suggest any information I may be able to use?

L. Whitehead

Dear Mr./Ms. Whitehead:

There are a variety of sources that you can use for your research. These are my top five:

  1. Volunteer Today => news is changed monthly and covers all aspects of volunteer management. A new page has been added called "Volunteers Needed" that links to other sites offering volunteer opportunities of all types.
  2. CyberVPM => a complete resource for volunteer management with easy to find information and many links to other sources. Don't forget to sign up for the free monthly newsletter!
  3. Merrill Associates => Mary Merrill is an independent consultant and trainer based in Columbus, Ohio. Every month she posts a different "Topic of the Month" that addresses some area of volunteer management. Current and past topics are easily accessed and include "Sharpening Your Interviewing Skills," "Developing a Philosophy of Volunteer Involvement," and "Family Volunteering," to name just a few.
  4. Energize => Susan Ellis is a well-known consultant and trainer in the field of volunteer management. Her site provides resources, a complete volunteer management bibliography, and her extensive catalog of publications.
  5. Independent Sector => For statistics, news, tips, volunteer opportunities, and links to other sites, you can't beat Independent Sector for the latest in nonprofit information.

There are four scholarly journals on volunteerism that you will want to use too: Journal of Volunteer Administration, Nonprofit and Volunteer Sector Quarterly, Voluntas, and Nonprofit Management and Leadership. You can link to these journals through the Portal Site here at Volunteer Today.

Dear Connie:

I am looking for a "generic" volunteer training program. I have been advised of some very specific programs that have left me wanting. Can you advise as to where I might find such a program? I am training people who may work in a number of very different jobs in the law and security industry. I will be working with upwards of four groups of twenty each over an academic term. It works out to about 21 hours (7 weeks) of training opportunity for the students. The government of our province (your state) has mandated such training for graduation of Criminal Justice. This led to my request for "generic" training rather than training for Big Brothers or the YMCA, which have tailor-made programs. Thank You.

Owen in Ontario, Canada

Dear Owen,

Training in any setting is based on the learning objectives, what you want the students to know, think, feel, and/or be able to do after completing the training. With that in mind I encourage you to write down some specific learning objectives and then design exercises and readings that will accomplish each objective. Objectives can be very specific (such as how to complete an evaluation form) or very broad (such as understand the basic elements of the criminal justice system). Without objectives, it is very difficult to design and implement effective training.

There are some resources on training at these web sites that may help you: Management and Training at the Volunteer Today Web Site, Energize, CyberVPM, and Merrill Associates. Each site has links to other sites that may be helpful too.

Dear Connie:

I am starting a new job as a Community Involvement Assistant with a county elementary school. Any advice or information you can give me will be greatly appreciated. The person who held this position before me has already left, so I am going in completely blind.

Patti in Florida

Dear Patti:

Congratulations on your new job! Here's my advice for getting into a network of your colleagues who can provide advice and moral support.

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.