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.
~ September 2001 Questions ~
  • Needs Assessments
  • Volunteer Evaluation Forms
  • Cover Letters & Applications
  • Training Techniques: Video vs. Live


There is grief throughout the world for those lost and injured by terrorist attacks. But, there are also thanks for outpourings of love, condolence, sympathy, and encouragement from family, friends and neighbors from Sri Lanka to Sydney to Sacramento, and Sweden.


"Now let us thank the Eternal Power: convinced
That Heaven but tries our virtue by affliction.
That oft the cloud which wraps the present hour
Serves but to brighten all our future days."
John Brown 1715-1766

Dear Connie:
Would you please refer me to any information on needs assessments? Nancy Macduff talked about it briefly at a recent Victoria BC volunteer conference and I'd like to learn more.



Dear Sharon:
Planning for volunteers in an agency (needs assessment) 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 that 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:

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:
Hello! I was cruising the Internet for ideas on creating a simple volunteer evaluation form for our nonprofit program. Do you have any samples to send on? Any feedback would be appreciated!



Dear Kristan:
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, or 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 am just starting a volunteer program at our nonprofit organization and thought you may be able to give me some tips on writing a cover letter to pair with our application. What should I say and what needs to be stated? Should I explain a little about our company in it or keep it short? Any information you would be able to give me would be very helpful.



Dear Katie:
The cover letter will tell a great deal about your organization and your volunteer program by the way it looks and what it contains. My suggestions are:

  1. Keep it simple and short (one page).
  2. Tell a little about your organization and the important role that volunteers play in achieving its mission.
  3. If there's room list the volunteer opportunities (or types of) that are available.
  4. Explain the process -- where to send the application and what happens after you receive it.
  5. Be warm and welcoming -- let the prospective volunteer know that you welcome questions.
  6. Make sure that it's error free -- sloppiness "implies" disorganization, something volunteers hate!
  7. Be professional AND fun -- send the message that your organization is an excellent place to volunteer.

Dear Connie:
I coordinate the recruitment and training of volunteers who serve in our respite program. These volunteers go into the homes of seniors who are receiving full-time care from a family member and relieve the family member for 3-4 hours/week. We currently offer a 12-hour training to all our volunteers, but find that few of them attend the full 12 hours. So we are talking about offering alternatives to those who can't attend the training sessions (i.e.: watch videos on the topic). My question is in two parts:

1. Is there an industry standard for the number of training hours a volunteer needs to complete to do in-home kinds of work? If so, where would I find it? I am calling agencies in my area that provides similar services to discuss their ways of handling this.

2. What are my program's liability risks if we place volunteers who haven't completed the full 12- hour training but substituted it with videos and post-training tests to prove they've watched the videos?
Any information you can offer me would be greatly appreciated.



Dear Gayle:
First, to my knowledge there is no industry standard for the number of hours required to train volunteers to do in-home work. I think you are wise to check with your colleagues locally. Sometimes there's an "implied" standard in each city among similar agencies.

Second, I think it would be very difficult to assess your liability for volunteers who have completed "video" training versus "live" training.

Before you change your training completely, I suggest you talk to some of the volunteers who don't attend the full 12 hours. Find out what's working and what's not. It may be the time of day or day of the week that you offer the training. Or, some of it may seem redundant and the volunteers don't feel they need repetitious training. I have found that the answers usually come from the volunteers themselves. So, ask them!

Next, I would consider a combination a "live" training AND video AND reading. This varies the learning techniques (everyone takes on new ideas differently) and it allows volunteers to do some of the training work at home and at times convenient for them.

Whatever you decide to do, I suggest that you make attendance at all training sessions and completion of all training materials (video, workbooks, etc.) MANDATORY and not give volunteers assignments until they have completed the training. Making training mandatory is the best way to maintain the quality of the services your organization provides. When you make assignments to volunteers who haven't completed the training, you're sending the message to all volunteers that the training isn't all that important, which is exactly the opposite of what you want them to understand.

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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