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.

Send questions to

Return to 2002 Archives

~ June 2002 Topics ~

  • Volunteers and Fundraising -- A Poll
  • Active Listening Training for Volunteers
  • Finding Grants for Volunteer Training
  • Icebreakers

A Question from Ask Connie

Dear Readers:

The subject of volunteers and fundraising has many layers and variations. The one that many volunteer program managers struggle with is whether or not to solicit financial contributions from their direct-service volunteers (not volunteer board members or trustees). I'd like to hear from you!

Are the volunteers in your organization solicited for financial contributions? If so, how? If not, why? Please send your responses to me, and I'll share the results of this informal poll in my September column.

Thanks for your help and Happy Summer!


Dear Connie:
I am looking for video and/or audio tapes that our mental health organization can use to train volunteers to answer a supportive listening and suicide/crisis intervention line. I am looking for videos or audiotapes that demonstrate or provide examples of active/empathetic listening and identifying and reflecting feelings. I have found "Communicating with Compassion." Do you know of any additional videos or audio training tools that would be appropriate for training volunteers to communicate with people experiencing a mental health crisis? Thanks!
Vickie at mental health association


Dear Vickie:
Check out the International Listening Association at This professional association promotes the study, development, and teaching of listening and the practice of effective listening skills and techniques. Click on "Listening Resources," where you'll find Listening Exercises, Listening Tests & Assessments, Listening Factoids, Convention Paper Resource Center, and more.

I did a quick search on (search "suicide prevention" or "crisis centers") and found the following two sites, among many, that might be of help:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at I cruised around the site quickly, and it appears there might be some resources you can use on the "education" or "link resources" in the left column.

American Association of Suicidology at They have a variety of options in the left column, ranging from "publications" and "resources" (which looks really helpful) in their "bookstore."

Dear Connie,
I am on the advisory board of a nonprofit gift and thrift store that funds a Domestic Violence Shelter and Sexual Assault program. We have over one hundred volunteers for our thrift store and are looking for grant monies for the training these people. Do you have any ideas?Jean


Dear Jean:
The first thing that occurs to me is corporate sponsorship for a volunteer training program. You could probably secure one or two corporations or local businesses in your city to sponsor your volunteer training program. It isn't difficult to make a strong case for investing in training (or building the capacity) of the citizens who volunteer to support your organization. It's a combination of community development and supporting your organization's mission. This type of activity is attractive to corporate funders because it's well defined with a beginning and an end. Another thought is to approach your local community foundation(s). They are usually supportive of training activities for volunteers.

Dear Connie:
I will be assisting with training of teen's ages 13 to 16 in June. They will be working together in a Summer VolunTeen Program. I would like to take about 30 to 45 minutes helping them to get to know each other. Can you recommend an icebreaker? Do you know of an icebreaker for adults, also?
Thanks, Lois M.


Dear Lois:

Here's one of three icebreakers you'll find in a great article written by my friend and colleague Mary Merrill. It's taken from her website at (click on "Topics of the Month"):


Games may be used effectively at the beginning of a meeting, session, workshop, etc., as a means of securing interest and setting the tone for the session. Games quickly create a mood of openness, playfulness, and interactive learning. An opening exercise should be relatively quick and should grab the attention of the participants. Opening activities are often designed to get participants up, moving, acquainted, and energized. Beginning the meeting with "Name the Name" creates a different mood than having participants go around the room and introduce themselves. The following three games are recommended as icebreakers, or opening activities. They can be done "for fun" or prizes can be offered to create a mood of competitiveness. 

"Name the Name" takes 15-20 minutes minimum and is good for groups of 10-30 people. Each player is given a pencil, nametag, and slips of paper. On the name tag participants are instructed to write their name, but omit every other letter. For example, Mary Merrill would be M_R_ M_R_I_L. Each player puts on his/her nametag. Players are to mingle with each other, observing nametags, and attempting to "guess" the correct name. "Guesses" are written on a piece of paper and given to the player named. Players do not look at the "guesses" until time is called. At the appropriate time, players look at the names they have collected, read them aloud, and announce which one is correct. Variation: if many of the players know each other, names of famous people may be substituted for the players' names.

Additional References and Resources:

  • Butler, Susan, (1986), Non-Competitive Games for People of All Ages, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.
  • Neil Warren Associates (1990), The Warmups Manual, Toronto, Ontario: Learnxs.
  • Rohnke, Karl (1985), Silver bullets: A Guide to Initiative Problems, Adventure Games and Trust Activities. Hamilton, Mass.: Project Adventure, Inc.
  • Scannell, Edward (1990), Games Trainers Play, New York: McGraw-Hill Inc.

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 Street, NW - Suite 1248
Washington, DC 20008
VOICE: 202-966-0859 FAX: 202-966-3301

Copyright 2002 by Nancy Macduff.

Return to Top of Page