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VolunteerToday.com~~ 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.

Management Image

~November 2003~ Topics

Sinking Boat ImageCrisis Management

All volunteer programs experience times of crisis. Sometimes the organization has the crisis, an individual in the organization hits the headlines, or a client, member, or patron brings attention to the organization in a not-so-positive manner. Most organizations are good at managing a crisis as it relates to the relationship with staff, but what about the volunteers? Sometimes it is volunteers who can help head off the next crisis and so keeping them well-informed is critical. Here are some tips.

Get the facts. Insist that it is important for you to know all that is going on. Most managers of volunteer programs in organizations run the single largest “department” in terms of people. Those people need information to forestall gossip and rumor mill overload.
Control your behavior. No matter the crisis, you need to be calm and reassuring. If you need to break down, do it at home, alone, in a closet. Your leadership sets an example that the volunteers will follow. If you are nervous and anxious, the volunteers are likely to emulate that in their daily contacts and not be reassuring to others.
Over communicate. Times of crisis is when we need daily, even hourly information. Think of TV news. 9/11 and the War in Iraq brought us minute-to-minute coverage in the hours after the events. But, in time TV was back with Regis and Kelly and the Oprah show. Some organization’s follow the 5/3 rule. Five minutes of information three times a day. If you work in a setting where volunteer schedules are throughout the day and evening, this is an especially good way to communicate.
Debrief. When the crisis is over, review what happened. Talk about the things that could have been done to avoid the crisis in the first place (if the volunteer program has any control over this) and how the communication could have been better. This is learning through adversity.

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Keeping Meetings on Track

Ever wonder how some people keep meetings on track? Here are some phrases to help you at that next meeting that is careening off track.

What to say
Sometimes people talk all at once, or they fling arms into the air for attention, and the quiet ones never get heard. Your task is to maintain order, if you are the chair, and see everyone gets heard.

“Your turn first, and then you, and then you.”

“Carol, we haven’t heard from you. Is there anything you would like to add?”

Meeting discussions should be summarized, and not just at the end. It is easy for side conversations, a momentary lapse in listening to leave attendees confused. Anyone in the group can summarize what has proceeded.

“I need to be sure I am still understanding our discussion. Let’s see if I can summarize what we have so far.”

“Can someone share what they think we have decided so far?”

Meetings seem to get off track easily. Anyone can bring the meeting back to its original focus.

“I wonder if we haven’t wandered afield from the original purpose for the meeting.”

“I wonder if we could get back on track.”

Some speakers in a meeting are clear and concise, others wander around in a corn field and create confusion. Both may have good ideas, but sometimes clarification is necessary.

“Juan I think you are trying to say. . .”

“So what you are saying is. . .”

Your “OQ”

“OQ” is your “Organization Quotient.” Here is a quick quiz to see how organized you are. Answer “yes” or “no” to the statements below.

_____ 1. I carry home office work more than once per week.
_____ 2. I often put off assignments until the deadline is looming.
_____ 3. During the last three months I lost an important document on my desk.
_____ 4. I am hassled by frequent interruptions - phone, volunteers, paid staff, and as a result I cannot concentrate.
_____ 5. On my desk there are papers that I have not touched for a week or more.
_____ 6. My voice mail or email has messages that begin, “You didn’t get back to me so I . . .”

Scoring: If you said yes to all six - call an organizational specialist immediately; three yes answers means you have some problems, but with a little effort they could be fixed. Less than three yes answers means you’re “OQ” is good or great (zero yes answers); keep up the good work, and always be on the lookout for improvements.


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.

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