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Who We Are ~~ The Electronic Gazette for Volunteerism


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.
~April 2003 ~Topics

NEW from Volunteer Online Bookstore

The One Minute Answer to Volunteer Management Questions by Mary Kay Hood

Written especially for the beginner, this book provides a quick reference for the practical aspects of managing a volunteer program. It provides an easy read for the harried volunteer program manager on topics such as recruitment, interviewing, risk management, networking, community involvement, and leadership. The author, Mary Kay Hood, is currently the Director of Volunteer Services, with 13 years experience.

Building Support from Within

Building support for new initiatives and changes means finding allies in the ranks of volunteers and paid staff. Here are some tips for finding allies with vastly different concerns.

The Information Junkie has a need for data. The more research, statistics, graphs, charts you can produce the happier this person is. The details and numbers help to bring them aboard as an ally.

The Risk Averse person is a good ally. They can help prevent the problems that plague some programs. They require reassurance that nothing will go awry if they support your program. Talk with them about precautions and plans you have to prevent bad things from happening.

Global Thinkers are bored by details and want to hear a brief overview. Outline the macro vision of what the program or project will bring. Have ideas in bulleted form and be sure to mention how the new initiative benefits the entire organization.

No Controversy individuals will avoid anything that is not expressly approved by management. It is important to let this person know who is supporting this project and what that means in the hierarchy of the organization. For example, you can mention that the program will be operated with great efficiency and that the bookkeeper has supported the program for just that reason.

Being a Valued Co-Worker

Volunteer programs are impacted by the person who manages it. The person needs to know the elements of effective and efficient administration and they need to be viewed as a valuable co-worker. Here are some tips on being a part of the “team.”

Smile. It does not cost anything and should never be underestimated. Acknowledging other staff with a smile and a greeting as one arrives at work is more than common courtesy. It is a way to build friendships and respect.

Be a professional. Never stoop to gossip or bad-mouthing people. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”

Know your job. Know how to manage volunteers, be a resource to others on staff, fix things that go wrong immediately and build your skills each year. Never assume you know everything. Above all, listen to the comments of staff with an open mind. Remember: Anger is only one letter short of danger!

Do your share. It really is important to be the person who restocks the paper in the copier when the last sheet glides through. Do this even if it means a trip to another room to get the paper. Everyone in the work place notices. And teach volunteers to follow the same rule.

Be a sensitive communicator. Avoid loading up email systems with recipes, jokes or things that clog overloaded systems. Do not use graphics, unless you add as an attached document. Think before you send an email. Ask yourself: would a visit to this person work better and seem more personal than a flat email? But, do not overdo this.

Clean up. Train volunteers and yourself to be responsible for cleaning up after meetings or training sessions. Also, check the organizational refrigerator for things you left behind and that are now making penicillin in the green mold.

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Ten Mistakes of Volunteer Managers

1. Being Cynical about Management Cynicism leads to cynicism. If the volunteer manager has a cynical attitude toward the leadership of the organization, it is likely the volunteers will reflect that same attitude. They may even direct it at the volunteer manager. The job of managers is to build a team that works together to win the “game.”
2. No Plan Creating an annual plan with the help of an advisory group, leads to intentional actions and a sense of accomplishments. Staff, supervisors, volunteers, and clients or members know there is a plan and can count and see accomplishments. No planning leads to confusion and a lack of confidence in the volunteer manager.
3. Not listening Much of the volunteer manager’s job is about listening. Listening to volunteers, clients or members, supervisor, administrators, the public, and leaders in the community. Sometimes the news is not always positive. Effective managers learn to control disappoint or anger to get the best information, in order to improve the program.
4. Over committing Learning to say no or “not now” are critical skills for the volunteer manager. The skills needed to run a volunteer program include the instinct to want to help others. Therefore, it is sometimes hard for the volunteer program manager to say "no!" An annual plan can lend support to staying on task and saying, “I can’t do that this year.”
5. Teams in name only The most effective organizations with volunteers have a “team” ethic. The philosophy and actions demonstrate that everyone is part of the team. Clients or members, volunteers, staff at all levels, and other stakeholders are intrinsic to the operation of the organization. They are consulted as changes are made, crises are faced, and awards are celebrated.
6. Inability to build trust Volunteers need to trust the person who is the volunteer manager. The volunteer needs to be confident that information shared will be handled discreetly, the manager will support the volunteers even in all staff meetings, and will never let the volunteer feel or look foolish. If those things are missing the manager will not have the trust of volunteers.
7. Fear of evaluation Volunteer programs with “punch” have annual plans with measurable goals and objectives. There is an annual report with lots of numbers and measurements of the impact of volunteer efforts. This is evaluation and it is the only way to improve a program.
8. Empty management toolbox Successful volunteer managers belong to local and national professional associations. They take advantage of local and national or international training. They network with people who can help them hone their skills as a manager. Thus, their management toolbox is always being filled up.
9. "Because I said so." Giving orders seems easy on the surface, but getting commitment from volunteers is a smarter strategy to build the strong volunteer program. Organizing a well run advisory group and engaging volunteers at all levels in decision making takes more time, but builds commitment and increases retention.
10. Lack of commitment to learning Professional development is a key to success in any profession. Volunteer managers should subscribe to one of the six journals written about working with volunteers, belong to a professional association, take college classes on management, and seek professional certification in volunteer administration. It shows professional integrity and enhances the work done.

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Interested in assessing volunteer and staff relations in your program?

Looking for help from an expert?

Get help with one of the Volunteer Program Evaluation Series.


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 Robin Popik, who is a Volunteer Resource Supervisor. She can be reached by phone at 972-941-7114. Be sure to mention you read about this in Volunteer Today.

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