Find tips to oversee the work of volunteers and practical suggestions to supervise them. Everything from ideas to help you work more efficiently to the latest in research on keeping volunteers happy and productive.

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~ December 2002 ~ Topics


VT Search It

Our intrepid Web Master has added a new feature to make your use of VT even easier. On the Navigation panel to the left of the Home page (and section pages, too!) you will find a link called "Search". Click on this link and service of the search engine Google shows up. You can type in a word, select whether you just want to check VT articles or the entire Web (We're easier to search, trust me!). The search engine finds the topic and directs you to previously written articles.

To test this search site the Web Master typed in "Dog,", selected "Search Volunteer Today" and sure enough, up popped an article on volunteers, pet loss and how to handle it. The archive sites of VT are in the process of being loaded with keywords to help search way back in the history of this newsletter. Happy searching!

Train Your Peers

The Association for Volunteer Administration will hold its International Conference on Volunteer Administration in Cincinnati, OH, October 15-18, 2003. They are currently seeking proposal for workshops and seminars at that event. If you are interested in training your peers this is the opportunity. Information on submitting proposals can be found at the AVA Web site. The proposals are due December 13, 2002.

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Strategies to Deal with Difficult People

Working with others is always a challenge, but some folks corner the market on challenge. Here are five types of people found in most work places. And, they can be paid staff or a volunteer. There are tips to help deal with them. Chose a difficult situation:

People Who Create Conflict in Groups
  • Focus on ideas and not on the person
  • Make clear that differences of opinion are helpful
  • Use techniques to make sure everyone in the group has a say
  • Begin by noting the things on which the group agrees
  • State clearly the area of disagreement. Give all sides the opportunity to present their views.
  • Use brainstorm techniques to move the views closer together
People Who Interrupt Others
  • Address the person who is interrupting and tell them another person needs to finish their thoughts
  • Ask the person to scribe for the group. This is a chance to practice listening skills.
  • Take them aside, privately, and tell them you need their help to help you listen more effectively

Distracting Behaviors
  • This includes rolling eyes, head shaking, fidgeting, side comments, or conversations.
  • Ignore it
  • Be quiet and look at the person, with no comments
  • Describe what you see to the person (without being judgmental) and ask the person to help you understand what is going on and if they have ideas to share

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Person who Talks Too Much
  • Ask someone else to ask another person in the group a question
  • Respect the differences in people, with some needing to think aloud to make their contribution.
  • Ask close-ended questions
  • Ask anyone who has not spoken what they think
  • Build on what the "talker" has said and move to a new topic.
Domineering Person
  • Ask to hear from others
  • Avoid eye contact with this person when asking questions
  • Use structured activities so everyone has a chance to participate. This is a good place for team discussion.
  • If it is a recurring group meeting, as the group to evaluate the "balance of participation" in the group. Ask them to help devise strategies to improve the balance.

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Volunteer Program Evaluation Series Announced

MBA Publishing, the owner of Volunteer Today, announced in November the launch of a new online series to aid volunteer managers in evaluating theirprograms. The Volunteer Program Evaluation Series (VPES) begins with four evaluations; Recruitment, Organizational Readiness, Volunteer and Staff Relations, and Risk Management. For a small fee subscribers can download an evaluation instrument designed to help assess a program and make plans for future improvements.

A unique feature of this series is the availability of consultants to the organization purchasing the evaluation. A package arrangement allows the buyer to receive the evaluation, a bibliography, and a one-hour phone consultation with the author following the completion of the evaluation. The fees have been kept below $100. In order to promote widespread use of the instruments.
The Volunteer Program Evaluation Series will eventually have over 25 separate evaluation tools to assess all aspects of volunteer program management for nonprofits, government based programs, and corporate volunteer programs. The nine authors are a line-up of experts noted world wide for their training and consulting skills, and experience across the field of volunteerism.

Visit the VPES Web site to see the authors, learn more about the program, and sign up for your first evaluation.

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Who Is Measuring What?

Accountability in many nonprofit and voluntary programs is being done through performance measures. The organization usually devises a pre-determined standard of service or impact and measures for that. A new report, based on 1998 data, from Independent Sector, shows that non-profits and religious organizations are deeply involved in this type of accountability. 85% of US nonprofits and 72% of religious congregations evaluate their programs.

The rub in all this good news is who is measuring and what they are measuring. Secular organizations were twice as likely to measure things like quality of programs and types of people served. Arts organizations are more likely to evaluate their programs than human service organizations.

Secular and religious organizations do aim their evaluations at measuring the changes the program brought about. 76% for secular organizations and 65% of religious organizations.

While the efforts at measuring outcomes are growing, it is still focused on a "numbers game," quantitative versus qualitative. Organizations indicated that they do not measure impact because they lack knowledge of how to evaluate efforts, there is limited capacity to measure, it is difficult to track people once they leave a program, and computers and software to track results is often not available.

For those organizations wrestling with "performance measures" there is ample information in two reports on this topic.

  • Highlights of the Independent Sector report, "Balancing the Scale: Measuring the Roles and Contributions of Nonprofit Organizations and Religious Congregations," is on their Web site
  • Another report on this topic comes from the Urban Institute. "Making Use of Outcome Information for Improving Services: Recommendations for Nonprofit Organizations," is online at It can also be purchased for $5.00 from the Urban Institute's Publications Sales Office 877-847-7377.

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Should the Volunteer Program Measure Performance?

Program performance measures are being used in most non-profit and religiously based social welfare programs. Arts organizations are evaluating impact, too. So, why should the volunteer program get involved in this measurement? After all the task of the volunteer is to provide the service or effort to allow a program to go forward. So why measure what they do? Here are some issues to ponder.

Measuring is good business
Knowing the impact of volunteer involvement can and should impact the "bottom line" or the budget for the volunteer outreach efforts. One volunteer manager, at a government-based program, converts volunteer hours into FTEs (Full Time Equivalent). This is a full time employee designation. Her manager and administrator can see in stark clarity the "value added"element of volunteer efforts.
Measuring is time intensive
This is a true statement. However, this is a perfect task for a homebound volunteer or an Internet volunteer position. An advisory committee needs to establish such things as standards, data to be collected, collection methods, reporting timelines, and reporting formats to guide those doing the actual work.
Volunteers don't control the outcome of programs, why should they be held accountable?
Volunteers are usually only one piece of a program, but often an important one. By measuring their activity and impact, decision makers can see the essential element that volunteers provide. As an example, a volunteer manager started assessing performance of volunteers through a review of the position description with volunteers doing the tasks. She learned that a position originally designated for quiet activities such as reading and conversation had changed to include lifting people who were receiving medical treatment. This "measure" had paid staff, administrators, volunteers, and the volunteer manager scrambling to re-think the actual service being expected and given.
If I measure, the numbers or reports can be used against my program.
Yes, that is true, but it can also be used for your program. It is much easier, in times of economic hardship, to eliminate a program about which you know nothing, than one you know is struggling to meet certain criteria. Measurements are visibility and can sometimes highlight the consequences of past inattention to the volunteer program.
What if the standards of measurement are unfair?
That is the reason to set an advisory group in place to help determine the elements of measuring. It is also useful to talk to others who do the same thing in other parts of your community, state/province, country, or worldwide. Find out how others are measuring and apply to your program.
This seems awfully big and expensive.
That is why you want to start small. Do not begin by measuring everything. Select a program or aspect of a program to measure. Test it, then test it again and allow it to develop incrementally. Once there is some positive experience with measurements then other aspects of the volunteer program can be measured.

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Washington State University offers a Volunteer Management Certification Program through the Internet. Individuals around the world can earn a certificate in managing or coordinating volunteers, without leaving home.

For more information, visit Volunteer Today's Portal site, Internet Resources. Look for the Washington State University listing. There is a hot link to their Web site.


The National Association of Volunteer Programs in Local Government (NAVPLG) is an association of administrators, coordinators and directors of volunteer programs in local government. Its purpose is to strengthen volunteer programs in local government through leadership, advocacy, networking and information exchange. NAAVPLG is an affiliate of the National Association of Counties and is seeking affiliate status with the National League of Cities.

Cost is $20 for individuals and $75 for group local government membership. An affiliate membership is $25 and is intended for those who are not local government members but may have an interest in the group. There is a quarterly newsletter, national network, and access to NACo's Volunteerism Project.

For more information contact Glenis Chapin, who is a member of the Executive Committee. She can be reached by phone at 503-588-7990. Be sure to mention you read about this in Volunteer Today.

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