VolunteerToday.com ~~ The Electronic Gazette for Volunteerism


V.T. readers ask questions about volunteer management and administration. Ask Connie, an experienced volunteer manager, consultant and trainer, provides the answers for all to see.
~ June 2001 Questions ~
  • Recruiting for 55-65 Year Old Volunteers
  • Volunteer Needs Assessment of Staff
  • Retiring Older Volunteers

Dear Connie:
My wonderful job is the Volunteer Coordinator for a national education nonprofit located in 26 cities around the U.S. We offer classes in the arts, humanities, fitness, travel, personal development, and volunteer opportunities to folks over 50. Our membership is well over 5000 and we have 825 volunteers in our many programs. My dilemma is recruiting young volunteers (55-65) to take part in our classes and programs. When younger folks come to the organization they either see their parent or don't want to classify themselves as getting older. What is the best way to market our classes and programs to active seniors? We use our course catalogue as the primary marketing tool and send it to the same 5000 members three times a year. Also, we do presentations for church groups, business groups, clubs, senior centers, and retirement facilities.



Dear Barb:
Congratulations! It sounds as if you're doing very well already! Your marketing tools and techniques seem appropriate and broad based. Perhaps the challenge is what you're offering and not how you're offering it. The demographic you're recruiting ­ people in the 55-65 age range ­ are among the best educated with the most professional experience in many generations. The research shows that they aren't "retiring" in the same ways that prior generations have. Often they go on to second and third careers or start their own business. The best way to find out what attracts them is usually to ask them! In the same way that corporations utilize focus groups, a nonprofit organization can gather a group of people from the community who aren't active in the organization and ask for their advice on what would engage them. This "ad hoc" group often becomes the nucleus for building new programs and recruiting volunteers for them. Try going to the source and see what they say. I think you may be surprised!

Dear Connie:
I am the new Community Relations Specialist in my organization and was assigned the task of designing a departmental volunteer needs assessment survey/questionnaire to give to all of the department heads in our agency. This survey will be designed to help me educate prospective volunteers about our programs and volunteer opportunities and also to help me match volunteers to appropriate duties and departments. Can you offer any guidelines or specific questions that may be helpful for me to include in this needs assessment survey? Are there any sample needs assessment surveys available on the Web for me to use as a model?



Dear Natalie:
Planning for volunteers in an agency is an important step toward a successful volunteer program! I suggest you visit CyberVPM.com and do some research there. Click on "Basics of Volunteer Management" on the home page. Then click on "The Sections" and scroll down to "Volunteer/Staff Relationships."

A good place to start your work is to assess staff attitudes about volunteers. The responses will tell you how staff members are likely to react to the inclusion of volunteers in your agency. Some topics to cover are:

  1. The level of experience of staff in working with volunteers. Have they ever supervised volunteers before? Have they ever worked in an agency that utilized volunteers?
  2. Their level of comfort about utilizing volunteers. Are there jobs that they feel volunteers should do or should not do? Are there program elements, such as additional training for staff, which should be instituted?
  3. Any fears that staff may have about volunteer utilization. Are there potential difficulties, such as legal liability questions, which should be addressed? Are there worries about loss of staff jobs by replacement?

The next step would be to "consult" the staff to determine how they might best utilize volunteers. The responses will help you put together volunteer jobs that will be productive for both staff and volunteers. Some questions to ask are:

  1. What are the parts of your job that you really like to do?
  2. What are the parts of your job that you really dislike?
  3. What other activities or projects have you always wanted to do but never had time to do?

A good resource is a book you'll find at http://www.energizeinc.com. It's called "Volunteer Management: Mobilizing All the Resources of the Community" by Steve McCurley and Rick Lynch ($25.00). It offers a thorough examination of every facet of a successful volunteer program, from planning and organizing through measuring effectiveness. Highlighted throughout this manual are insightful quotes by practitioners and consultants in the field. An extensive bibliography, a list of organizations and Web sites, sample volunteer management policies, and numerous sample forms and worksheets are included. The chapters cover everything from An Introduction to Volunteer Involvement to Planning a High-Impact Volunteer Program, Organizing a Volunteer Program (this is where you'll find information on surveying staff), Creating Motivating Volunteer Jobs, Recruiting, Screening, Interviewing, and much more.

Dear Connie:
I am the Director of a Volunteer and Resource Center. One question I receive quite often is "How do I respectfully retire my senior volunteer who has been with my program for so many years?" I have been working with volunteer programs for about 8 years now. I really would like some resources or information on how to transition your volunteers. I tell my agencies when they ask that you should treat your volunteers just as you would your paid staff, but I don't really have a strong answer on "retiring" a volunteer. I would appreciate any help you can give me on this.



Dear V.A.:
When you speak of "retiring" older volunteers, I assume it's because they can no longer do the necessary work. (Otherwise why would you want them to leave?) This is one of the challenges in working with older volunteers. And, there aren't any easy answers! One way is to have an evaluation system. An objective annual process that includes feedback to and from volunteers is the best way to set the stage for future retirement. Like so many things in volunteer program management, one size doesn't necessarily fit all. Here are a few options to consider:

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.

Connie Pirtle

Strategic Nonprofit Resources

2939 Van Ness NW Street, Suite 1248

Washington, DC 20008

VOICE: 202-966-0859

FAX: 202-966-3301
Copyright 2001 by Nancy Macduff.

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