VolunteerToday.com ~~ The Electronic Gazette for Volunteerism


  • Losing Volunteers Due to Bad Supervision
  • Social Capital and Volunteers
  • Tips to Keep Volunteers

Losing Volunteers Due to Bad Supervision

Are you losing volunteers due to bad supervisors? An increase in volunteer turnover, requests for moves to other areas, or high "no-show" numbers are all indicators there might be a problem with the relationship between the supervisor and the volunteer. It is important that the volunteer manager not "leap" to conclusions about the problem. Here are some tips to get to the bottom of the situation.

Do not assume the supervisor is at fault before getting the facts from both sides.

Social Capital and Volunteers

Social capital is an organization's emotional and spiritual resources. It impacts the effectiveness of such things as policies, procedures, and processes. This is not an area of strength, even in nonprofit organizations, let alone government or businesses. Part of the problem is that there is not a great deal of information on how to do this, or what it looks like when social capital is abundant.

Social capital comes from ancient African religions. It uses the hierarchy of African spirits, which is transtribal, as a model for managing cultural, emotional, and spiritual resources. In African spirit religion, the spirit is the inner self and total being. Applied to an organization it is a metaphor to describe the energy and consciousness of an organization's values and beliefs.



Spirit/Cultural Values


Rainmaker Spirit


Morality and dignity

This spirit is concerned about the relationships in the organization or among the group. It is the caretaker of the workplace universe. This spirit is accountable for the whole, not just the individual parts.

Hunter Spirit

(Shavi Rudzimba)

Performance and Enterprise

This is the restless spirit who hungers to improve the climate and improve the services. The spirit is always looking for new things, creative solutions, and competitive challenges.

Divination Spirit


Authority: Know the truth

Experts and specialists in and organization have this spirit. They know the truth. This spirit can be a traditionalist and reduce the rate of learning in an organization and therefore, its capacity to change. Teams need to have Sangoma and Shave.

War Spirit


Power and conflict
This is the spirit of the person with personal power and gamesmanship. Individuals need to develop personal influence skills to survive in the modern organization.

Clan/Family Spirit

(Mudzimu Wemhuri)

Survival of one's self and one's group
This is the spirit interested in the survival of the group. Solidarity with the group is enhanced through specified rituals or rites. Symbols are important to keep this spirit healthy.

Wandering Spirit


Particular obsession, ability, and creativity
This is the spirit of the outsider who comes to the organizational family, usually as a "Knight in Shining Armor" to solve all problems. The person is innovative and creative. Rarely are these people accepted in organizations. Usually they are just tolerated. Organizations are healthiest who attract the maverick from outside to help with innovation.

Avenging Spirit


Bitterness, anger, revenge
This spirit is usually good, but has been treated unjustly. It harbors anger, and wishes for revenge. This is prevalent among marginalized and powerless groups in society and in organizations. Unless these people can overcome bitterness and anger, they cannot develop a new reality or vision for themselves or for the organization.

Witch Spirit


Cynicism, negativity, destruction
This evil spirit is characterized by cynical thinking, and passive and active acts of sabotage. It is a dominant spirit in sluggish businesses and government bureaucracies.


The model can be used as a tool for testing the current culture and developing a framework to transform the organization's social capital. The model has been used to transform such organizations as the South African Post Office (26,000 employees), Spoornet-a South African railway system; and an Agricultural Rural Development Corporation.

In a large organization, the use of this model requires off-work site, residential, multi-functional, and multi-rational workshops. There is drumming, dancing, debate, and outputs around strategic themes. Workshops are run by trained facilitators who are open to a variety of outcomes. The focus is on raising consciousness about global views, power, and accountability. This happens through debate and dissent. Individuals are encouraged to think through who they are and why they are where they are now. There is a collective capturing of stories.

One of the most powerful means to determine the spirit of a volunteer program is to extract the myths, stories, or tales that are representative of the organization. Participants are asked to share their most memorable experience. They can also be asked to share the memories of a remarkable character in the organization. Obviously, if the stories are negative, it means the organization is at the bottom of the hierarchy.

There are means to change the social capital by constructing new stories and myths. Here are some means to do that:


Adapted from "Managing Social Capital," by Lovemore Mbigi, Johannesburg, South Africa, in "Training & Development, January 2000, a publication of the American Society for Training and Development.

Tips to Keep Volunteers

Keeping volunteers satisfied with their position and the organization is an on-going responsibility for the volunteer manager and the staff working with volunteers. Here are some tips to keep them satisfied. They do not cost much, either.

  1. Set up rotating meetings with the head of your organization. In government, this is the administrator of the program; for a nonprofit it is the CEO; in a corporate volunteer program it is the head of the department where the employee volunteer program is located. These are not gripe sessions (make this clear). Ask the person to share information about how the program is successful, what the future holds, and how the people volunteering are contributing.
  2. Send letters to the families of volunteers. Thank the family for being supportive of the volunteer's efforts to provide assistance. Give examples of how the work of volunteers impacts others.
  3. When clients, members, or organizations write letter commending the work of volunteers, frame them. Keep an honor wall with a steady stream of letters of praise-for staff and volunteers.
  4. Continue to lobby for more money to do recognition activities that cost money! An ice cream day, certificates, printed post-it-notes for use by supervisors, organizational thank-you cards. These small acts of generosity carry a powerful message to the volunteers about the value that is placed on their work!

Government Volunteer Programs Can Earn Awards

Many awards exist for individual volunteers or nonprofit organizations, but government based volunteer programs are eligible, too. The Points of Light, "Daily Point of Light" awards are an example. For more information on this award you can go to the Points of Light web site at http://www.pointsoflight.org. The Orange County Volunteer Program recently took an award for its innovative approaches to involving citizens in a wide array of county activities. The Grand Traverse County Probate Court was also singled out for a Daily Point of Light Award. They use volunteers to work with first time juvenile felony offenders, who need help successfully completing probation.

Volunteer Today is looking for other places government programs can go to be nominated for awards. If you know national or regional awards--world wide for government based program, please send an e-mail to Volunteer Today.


The Points of Light Foundation has forms available to nominate volunteers and volunteer organizations for the Daily Points of Light Award. It is designed recognize individuals and groups that demonstrate unique and innovative approaches to community volunteering and citizen action, with a strong emphasis on service focused on the goals for children and young people set by the Presidents Summit for American's Future.

The award is given five days a week, excluding holidays. If you would like nomination forms, contact Toyja R. Somerville at 202-729-8000.


By calling 1-800-VOLUNTEER in the U.S., individuals can be connected to their local volunteer center. This is a national interactive call routing system designed to get volunteers connected to people who can help them volunteer. A new public service advertising program will feature this number.

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Copyright by Nancy Macduff.

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