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.

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~ April 2002 ~ Topics

  • Perks Card for Volunteers
  • Organizing a Church Fair
  • Defining a Volunteer
  • Volunteer Orientation -- The Essentials


Dear Connie:
I'm the volunteer coordinator for a preschool read-aloud program. I once read about a hospital that had a wonderful idea about appreciating volunteers that I would like to replicate. The volunteers at the hospital were given a "card" (like a gift card) to four different retail stores in the community, which included things like "a free dessert at a restaurant or 10% off Hallmark purchases." I was wondering if you've had experience with creating something like that for volunteers and if you had suggestions of how to make the card "a reality" for the volunteers in our program. Thanks!


Dear Wendy:
Many organizations use the technique you described for patrons and visitors as well as volunteers. For example, I have a theater subscription and patrons get 10% off at participating restaurants by showing their ticket stub after a performance. Here are some suggestions:

  • First, you will want to decide how you want to use the card; for example, it could be something you give volunteers as part of your National Volunteer Week celebration (April 21-27).
  • Then decide how many "perks" you want to secure and the types that your volunteers would most appreciate.
  • Involve your development director in this project so that you don't ask a merchant for something after the fundraising staff has already approached that merchant. In other words, share your list of "target" merchants with the development staff.
  • Ask them for help in putting together a simple package of materials to give to the merchants when you ask them for their support.
    • For example, merchants will want to know what your organization does (how it serves the community), how many volunteers you have, how the merchants will be recognized, what the gift card will look like, and how you will distribute it.
  • Now you are ready to call on your selected merchants and solicit their support.

I encourage you to start small and simple for a first-time project like this. It is better to secure 3-4 "perks" and do it right the first time. Next year you can expand and secure more "perks" if this year's effort was a success!

Dear Connie:
I have just been appointed to a committee within my church to plan our first summer church fair. No one on the committee has any real experience in planning such an event. I wonder whether you could give me any guidance as to where I might search for planning and conducting a church fair. We were hoping to ask each family of the church to volunteer time to develop and staff a booth, event or activity. Thanks so much for your help.


Dear HJ:
There are many good resources online for organizing events of any type. Visit the Energize, Inc. site at and browse through more than 80 books and videos. Two titles in particular will interest you: "How to Produce Fabulous Fundraising Events" by Betty Stallings and Donna McMillion and "Organizing Special Events and Conferences" by Darcy Campion Devney. You'll also find several books specifically for faith-based organizations like yours.

Dear Connie:
I am looking for a good definition of a volunteer that reflects the thought that they have taken on responsibility of their own free will and as a result are subjected to the rules and regulations of that organization. Do you have any thoughts?


Dear A.S.:
I'm not quite sure what you're looking for, but here are some thoughts. By definition, a volunteer is someone who assists your organization without remuneration (pay). Volunteers are accountable for and subject to the same policies and procedures that apply to salaried staff. You might want to incorporate some of these points into your volunteer handbook that reflect their rights and responsibilities:

    • Volunteers receive training for every assignment
    • Volunteers receive ongoing education to maintain and enhance their skills
    • Volunteers provide input into the annual and strategic planning
    • Volunteers are treated as professionals

Dear Connie:
I am a volunteer who has just started working with a volunteer coordinator to set up the orientation, training, and recognition of more isolated volunteers, e.g., friendly visitors to the elderly, drivers, and telephone security. Have you any advice or suggested reading on what are the essentials of orientation? Thank you!


Dear Helen:
I believe that orientation is essential to recruiting AND retaining an effective corps of volunteers. After all, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression! There is an excellent article on "The Importance of Good Orientation" by my colleague, Mary Merrill, on her website at The article is full of useful information, so check it out! Some highlights include:

Objectives of Orientation

  1. Make the person feel welcome.
  2. Develop positive perceptions about the organization.
  3. Confirm the volunteer decision.
  4. Reduce training time.
  5. Put new volunteers at ease.

Whether orientation is done one-to-one or in small groups, specific information should be covered:

    • Organizational history, services and funding overview
    • Market niche - how the organization sets itself apart in the marketplace and the community
    • Mission, vision, values, philosophy and goals
    • Organizational structure
    • Interrelationships between departments/functions
    • Names of department heads
    • Organizational culture
    • Management style
    • Dress codes
    • Emphasis on teamwork, group interactions, diversity, quality, communication, etc.
    • Work arrangement policies - flexibility in scheduling, etc.
    • Career development opportunities such as training courses, mentoring options
    • Explanation of the performance evaluation system
    • Overview of workplace policies related to equal opportunity, non-discrimination/non-harassment, health and safety, confidentiality, internet and computer usage, holidays and grievance procedures
    • Organizational events and activities, such as holiday parties, staff meetings, special events and fundraisers
    • Facility tour

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.

Send your questions to Connie at

Connie Pirtle
Strategic Nonprofit Resources
2939 Van Ness NW Street, Suite 1248
Washington, DC 20008
VOICE: 202-966-0859 FAX: 202-966-3301

Copyright 2002 by Nancy Macduff.

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