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Visit this page for ideas, suggestions and hints to build volunteer recruitment capacity.

~ December 2004 ~ Topics

What Are "Best Practices?"

Beware the "best practices" scam. The term "best practices" is bandied about the realm of managing volunteers with some frequency. Workshops at conventions and conferences on volunteer management routinely use this term. Is there such a thing? The answer is yes and no.

Researchers in the field of volunteerism are learning more each year about what works to make a program function effectively and what motivates different types of volunteers, but there are no single answers in a complex field of human resources management.

The manager of volunteers is part sales person, social worker, sociologist, motivational speaker, bookkeeper, marketing expert, historian, educator, and the list goes on. So how can you know what is a "best practice?"

Start with your own program. Write down the things done in recruiting and retention, know the numbers (demographics) of those in your program, keep track of which recruiting initiatives work. Soon you will develop your own best practices, based around the efforts in your program.

If you are looking at the work of others who tell you something is a "best practice," use these seven benchmarks to determine if you are getting good advice.

    1. Is it successful over time?
    2. Can it show quantifiable gains?
    3. Is it innovative?
    4. If quantifiable results are not readily available, then is it recognized as having positive results?
    5. Can it be repeated in other volunteer programs?
    6. Is it relevant?
    7. If it is linked to a specific type of organization, then it likely is not a best practice.

The above list is adapted from the work of Patricia Keehley, Steven Medlin, Laura Longmire, and Sue A. MacBride in Benchmarking for Best Practices in the Public Sector. (1997)

Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for: Best Practices for Volunteer Programs, by Sue Vineyard and Steve McCurley and Secrets of Leadership, by Rick Lynch and Sue Vineyard.

Details for Best Practices Book Recruiting & Retention Book Image

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Practical Steps to Praise

Study after study of workers in the United States and Canada say that the thing done least well by employers or supervisors was "praise." One study of volunteers showed that the thing they would like most from the organization where they provided service, was the hope that the staff would remember their name. A pretty grim indictment of the recognition efforts in the workplace.

Praise is not about plaques and certificates. It is simple acknowledgement of time spent achieving the goals of the program or organization. Here are some tips that work.

  • Talk about people behind their backs. Yep, tell other volunteers and paid staff how well someone is doing on a project, or how they helped you with something challenging, or what a pleasure it is to be around them. This behavior tells people what you value in the workplace and that you are someone who spreads the credit around.
  • Thank volunteers and paid staff for small things. Someone turns a form in, say thanks. Someone is unflaggingly cheerful, say thanks and how it helps you get through the day. Notice, observe, pay attention to the small stuff. Volunteers and paid staff leave because they feel their work is unappreciated.
  • Say nice things about people in front of others. Thank a volunteer for helping you in front of or within earshot of a supervisor or administrator in your program. This is a way of giving credit to the unsung hero of the program and giving credit, where credit is due.

The problem with communication is the illusion that is has occurred. GB Shaw

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Recruiting Volunteers: Resources for Two Types of Volunteers

Recruiting is least effective when the efforts are aimed at everyone in the whole world. Targeting specific people to do specific tasks is the most effective way to find the right person. Volunteer Today recently found two Web-based resources on recruiting specific groups.

  1. An extensive piece titled, "Recruiting and Supporting Latino Volunteers," reviews the background of Latino/Hispanic volunteering and recommends ways to include people from this group in your volunteer corps. It follows up with tips on supporting the volunteer once they have signed on. Their site is located at: http://oregon.4h.oregonstate.edu/oregonoutreach/volunteer_dev/recruiting_1.html.
  2. Charity Village has a library of articles on all aspects of recruiting volunteers. An excellent and thought-provoking piece reviews the challenges of finding volunteers for those difficult assignments. Titled "Recruiting for Hard-To-Fill Positions," it is authored by long time expert on volunteerism, Nan Hawthorne. Their site is located at: http://www.charityvillage.com/cv/research/rvol28.html.

For more information from Nan Hawthorne, check out her training kit, "Building Better Relationships with Volunteers." The kit includes a step-by-step training manual, handout masters and transparencies, and more. It is available at the Volunteer Today online bookstore for only $28.70. Click on the image for more information. Building Better Relationships Kit Image


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, call 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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