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~ September 2002~ Topics
  • Volunteers Aide Retention
  • Tracking Your Volunteers
  • "What's in a Name?"

Volunteers Aide Retention

Staff is not the only people who aid retention of volunteers. Clients, members, patrons can certainly have an impact, but so can other volunteers. Here are some tips to share with volunteers so they can aid in retention.

  • Be a volunteer who asks for constructive feedback. Urge volunteers to "invite" feedback from other volunteers about how they might improve to make the tasks go more smoothly.
  • Volunteers who pitch in to help other volunteers create an environment of strong bonds. Volunteers can be a sounding board for one another. Kindness is contagious and most people like working in a place where people help each other, without expecting some type of reward.
  • Urge volunteers to pass along good news. One volunteer telling another volunteer how effective he/she is has as much importance as if it came from the staff. Also, noticing productive work means someone is likely to continue it.

Tracking Your Volunteers

Recruiting is based on many things, but a primary item is a thorough knowledge of the current corps of volunteers. This involves numbers and statistics on the volunteers. There are a number of software programs to track volunteers. How do you decide what is best? A recent issue of the Association for Volunteer Administration's newsletter provided excellent advice on things to consider. Derreth Duncan, Volunteer Coordinator, at the Terry K. Watanabe Volunteer Center, New York City, wrote the article. We have adapted our advice from this excellent article."

  1. At a session with software company staff and 100 volunteer program managers at the Points of Light conference in Salt Lake City in June, one of software developers said that if you have fewer than 100 volunteers it is possible to develop your own database using a program like Access or Excel. And that is less expensive.

  2. Get expert advice. This is a great job for episodic volunteers to give you advice on what will work best. Recruit people who know about software, databases, and negotiating with vendors. They talk tech lingo that can come in handy in negotiating with a vendor. Be sure to include your staff Information Technology specialist on this committee. And take them brownies or new golf clubs. He/she is your new best friend.

  3. Before you start get some facts:
    • Get those pesky numbers on the computers where the database will be used; megabytes, memory, age, etc.
    • If you are in a "networked" situation, where computers talk to each other, can the network support this software?
    • Be sure to talk about speed. Vendors are anxious to sell and will tell you the program runs on your computer, and it is true, but it runs at the speed of a horse and buggy on a lazy Sunday in 1874.

  4. Read the small print. If there are contracts, read them very carefully. Who is providing technical support? Is there an additional charge for questions? When is help available and is it in your time zone? If you already have a database, how will the new system handle conversion? The advisory group can help you with more questions.

  5. Any good database can be customized. No two volunteer programs are the same, so you need to have a clear demonstration of how a conversion can take place. Ask the vendor to talk to someone who went through a conversion.

  6. Shop around for a good deal. Consider cost, up-grades, and reliability of the company. How long have they been in business? How long will that continue?

  7. You would not buy a car without driving it. The same goes for a new database. Ask for a demo and check it out. If you plan to have volunteers doing data entry, have them do a test drive as well!

  8. Consult, consult, consult. Involve the advisory group, your IT person, and other volunteer program managers who have done this. And keep your supervisor on top of this at every step along the way. This is a decision that can live on after you are gone or haunt you for the next 10 years!

October 9-12, 2002 - International Conference on Volunteer Administration, Denver, CO, Adams Mark Hotel, sponsored by the Association for Volunteer Administration.

"What's in a Name?"

Sarah Elliston, Senior Volunteer Associate, at United Way and Community Chest in Cincinnati, OH touched off a discussion akin to the famous line in Romeo and Juliet, by Wm. Shakespeare. The conversation touches on many aspects of the "professional" standing of those who work with volunteers. The title a person has matters and this conversation between Sarah and the writing team of Volunteer Today illustrate the power of words.

Sarah Elliston: ". . .most of the professionals in the field with whom I come in contact, prefer to think of themselves as managers of volunteer programs or administrators of volunteer programs...the term "volunteer manager" is misleading because the person hearing it or reading it most often assumes the manager is a volunteer herself. Actually, if you are familiar with the research that AVA (Association for Volunteer Administration) has done in this area . . .you'll find that they encourage us to call ourselves, "Managers of Volunteer Resources . . ."
Nancy Macduff: " . . .we have many people who do manage volunteers quite directly and do not hand them off to someone else, and thus they are volunteer managers. I prefer to use a variety of titles: manager, coordinator, manager of volunteer resources, to try to connect with our over 5000 readers each month."
Connie Pirtle:

". . .Personally, my volunteer management lexicon has morphed from volunteer coordination to coordinator of volunteers, coordinator of volunteer resources, manager of volunteer resources, and finally to volunteer program manager.

This last one seems to strike the right note with everyone (at the moment) people who are part or full-time VPM's and those who are outside the VPM field and /or the nonprofit world. It also says that if you have volunteers, then you have a volunteer program and that program requires a manager. A nice little "connect the dots." :o)

Using the title Volunteer Program Manager puts the important emphasis on "volunteer program" because those two words appear first; manager implies that a person works with and utilizes human resources rather than "directing" them; and it makes a nice acronym when it is needed (VPM)."

George Johnson-Coffey: Responds to Pirtle message with "I concur with Connie."
Sarah Elliston: ". . .What an incredible response - thanks. Sometimes I think I am an oldster because I care about these things, so it is nice to be taken seriously."
Jeanne Bradner: " . . .of course there's always the problem that if your title is volunteer program manager, people will think you are a volunteer. That's okay because I believe the right volunteer can do anything, but it doesn't help elevate the concept of "profession" and the notion that it merits a good salary in terms of the in-kind resources it generates."

Maybe it is time to think about your title, if it truly reflects what you do and
your importance to the organization.


The Points of Light Foundation has forms available to nominate volunteers and volunteer organizations for the Daily Points of Light Award. It is designed recognize individuals and groups that demonstrate unique and innovative approaches to community volunteering and citizen action, with a strong emphasis on service focused on the goals for children and young people set by the Presidents Summit for American's Future.

The award is given five days a week, excluding holidays. If you would like nomination forms, contact Crystal Hill at 202-729-8000.


By calling 1-800-VOLUNTEER in the U.S., individuals can be connected to their local volunteer center. This is a national interactive call routing system designed to get volunteers connected to people who can help them volunteer.

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