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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

November Questions

Dear Connie:
I need to survey my volunteers (long-timers as well as single project oriented). Does anyone have a great list of questions?

Judy S.


Dear Judy:
This is the perfect question for CyberVPM, the listserv for volunteer program managers. I suggest you join the list at http://www.cybervpm.com and then post your question. I'll bet you get more good responses than you can even use!! In the meantime, here's my Top 10 List on Surveys:

  1. Keep it focused - don't use this opportunity to ask volunteers everything you ever wanted to know. Do that in another survey next year.
  2. Keep it short - back and front of one page maximum.
  3. No essay questions - use multiple choice, true/false, etc. You can leave room at each question for a "Comment Line." You'll get a higher rate of return from volunteers if it takes only 10 minutes to complete.
  4. Thank them - at the beginning and the end of the survey.
  5. Give Instructions - why a survey and how/when to return it at the beginning AND the end of the survey.
  6. Field test - ask a few volunteers to complete the survey and get their feedback on how to improve it before you distribute it to the entire group.
  7. Promote it - if you have any sort of advisory group of volunteers, get their feedback on how to promote the survey and encourage volunteers to complete it.
  8. Award a prize - for the first 10, 15, you-pick-the-number of surveys returned. You can award a free lunch, a coffee mug, calendar, paperweight, free parking, open rehearsal tickets, you get the idea. By creating a "buzz" about the survey, your rate of return will most likely be higher.
  9. Share results - we all hate to spend our time providing information to someone or something and then never know "whatever happened to............" So, compile a brief executive summary or chart or whatever and distribute it to ALL volunteers not just those who participated. (No need to punish the ones who didn't participate. You'll likely want them to change behavior and/or take on new ideas from the survey too.) And be sure to share the results with your supervisor and your colleagues on the staff. Even if their work isn't directly affected by the survey, never miss an opportunity for what I call "subtle" education.
  10. Evaluate the process - take a few minutes to put on paper what worked in this survey process and what you'll do differently next time. Don't rely on your memory to improve the process the next time. There's too much to do between now and then and you'll likely forget! Also, make a list of the good ideas and suggestions you picked up along the way. It will save you time later.


Dear Connie:
I have two questions. First, where can I find the statute that explains that volunteers need to be fingerprinted if they work with the elderly, youth or disabled? Second, what is the national $$ amount used in calculating volunteer hours?

Jan S.


Dear Jan:
To my knowledge (unless I've been asleep under a tree somewhere), there is not yet any Federal law that requires fingerprinting of volunteers. However, many states require fingerprinting and/or criminal background checks. If you're looking for your state law, use a search engine such as http://www.yahoo.com. Just put the words "state laws" in the search box and presto! You'll be given links to every state judicial system in the country. Then you can search your state's site by "fingerprinting volunteers" and see what your specific state laws are.

There's an article in the September issue of Community Risk Management & Insurance, a publication of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. The article is about some bills that have been introduced (HR 4424 & HR 4244) on volunteer screenings & background checks. You can find information on these two pieces of legislation (plus any others) at http://thomas.loc.gov/.

The dollar value of one hour of volunteer work in 1990 was $14.30, established by Independent Sector (Washington, DC). Every two years Independent Sector conducts their "Giving and Volunteering Survey" with the Gallup organization. The dollar value is calculated by taking the average hourly wage for nonagricultural workers as published in the latest edition of the Economic Report of the President and increasing it by 12% to estimate fringe benefits.


Dear Connie:
I work as the Volunteer Coordinator for a small international development (not-for-profit) organization. I am interested in setting up a program in which volunteers from around the province give talks/presentations about international development (and our role in it) to schools, service clubs, and other interested organizations. Apart from the education component of the program, I am also hoping that the volunteers can participate in fundraising on behalf of our organization. Can you recommend any resources you think may be appropriate for starting such a program?

Victoria in Toronto


Dear Victoria:

A Speakers Bureau is an excellent way to promote your organization and inform the public about your mission and activities. It's also an excellent way to utilize volunteers who already enjoy public speaking or who would like to gain skills as a platform speaker. Your volunteer "speakers" can make presentations to civic, music, art, and service groups in your community/region. You will want to train your speakers on the history and background of your organization as well as its activities and services. Then you'll want to provide them with some basic platform speaking skills.

I suggest you contact a local speaker's bureau to find out how best to structure yours. I found two in Canada after a quick search on http://www.yahoo.com - the Atlantic Speakers Bureau in Scotch Ridge, NB (contact aphillips@brunnet.net) and Professional Speakers Bureau in Richmond Hill, Ontario (contact info@prospeakers.com). For information on public speaking, contact your local Toastmasters International in Toronto (contact dbedwell@on.lung.ca). You may be able to get materials on public speaking and perhaps even someone who would train your volunteers.

Hi Connie!
What are your thoughts about having a Volunteer of the Year in an organization? There are so many pros and cons to this. I would really like to know on which side you would vote on this.
Darlene L.


Dear Darlene:
I believe that it works well ONLY in circumstances where there is quantifiable, objective criteria -- such as number of hours worked, number of tickets sold, $$ raised, etc. (This assumes that there is a system in place to track such things accurately.) The risk of recognizing only one individual annually is that it sets up artificial competition that's contrary to the purpose of recognition (to recognize ALL volunteers for the time and talents they contribute). Competition can also easily lead to volunteers forgetting about how important it is to accomplish an organization's mission and focusing instead on the numbers to receive the annual "award." I know many organizations have annual awards, but I personally vote for recognizing volunteer leaders (plural) and all volunteers in appropriate ways.

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 2000 by Nancy Macduff.