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VolunteerToday.com ~~ The Electronic Gazette for Volunteerism

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 AskConnieP@cs.com

~ February 2004 ~ Topics

Dear Connie:

I am seeking information on how to help the docents do things differently and to urge them to accept a change in a tour that has been intact for about 15 years.


Dear J.G.:

When I'm making change with volunteers, I ask myself these questions:

  1. Have I created a plan for the change process so that it occurs as smoothly as possible and deliberately, rather than just "happening" accidentally? My plan would include steps to:
    • develop awareness about the change
    • increase interest in it
    • provide time and/or activities for volunteers to “try on” the change
    • provide time and/or activities for them to “practice” the change
    • prepare for acceptance by the majority and rejection by a few
  2. Have I made them a part of the change at all? Even if they perceive that they are a part of it, they will accept the change more readily. Or did I just announce that we'd be doing things differently and didn't even bother to explain why?
  3. Did I set the stage for change by giving volunteers a "heads up" frequently and long before the change would take place? Or did I just spring it on them all at once?
  4. Have I talked to volunteers individually and as a group about why and how to change and how it will affect Scared Military Guy Imagethem? If so, did I LISTEN to what they had to say rather than doing most of the talking?
  5. Did I take the time to learn and understand why volunteers may be resistant to the change so that I can address those concerns specifically?
  6. Have I identified individual volunteers who are "early adopters" and will advocate "inside" the volunteer group to make the change more smoothly?
  7. Have I identified individual volunteers who will resist the change most vigorously so that I can take specific steps to address their resistance?
  8. Am I ready to lose some volunteers who can't and/or won't make the required changes? Is that OK with my supervisor and me? (Generally the answer to this question is "yes" because it is human nature that not everyone can do things differently.

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Dear Connie:

I am the new Volunteer Coordinator here. I oversee a large number of great volunteers. My supervisor wants me to create a Volunteer Recognition Program, e.g., “volunteer of the month.” I am not sure that this would be the best idea. How do you pick out one person each month without upsetting everybody else? Do you have some ideas for alternatives that would please everybody?


Dear Candice:

Personally, I don't favor singling out one volunteer for recognition for all the obvious reasons. But having said that, I believe that it can work ONLY when there is quantifiable, objective criteria – such as number of hours worked, number of tickets sold, money raised, etc. (This assumes that there is a system in place at your organization to track such things accurately.) The risk of recognizing only one individual monthly is that it sets up artificial competition that's contrary to the purpose of recognition (to recognize ALL volunteers for the time and talents they contribute). Competition can also easily lead to volunteers forgetting about how important it is to accomplish an organization's mission and focusing instead on the numbers required to receive the monthly "award." I know many organizations have monthly or annual awards, but I personally vote for recognizing volunteer leaders and all volunteers in appropriate ways.

Another idea to consider is to develop a recognition plan, which contains specific strategies to recognize volunteers in a variety of ways and under a variety of circumstances. Your plan would be a yearlong outline of recognition activities (birthday cards, newsletter features, personal notes, letter from Executive Director, etc.) and events (recognition luncheon, party, behind-the-scenes tour, etc.) that you undertake to ensure that volunteers are recognized in a consistent manner. A plan would also involve creating a budget to support it.

Smiley Face Picture ImageThere are many excellent books on recognition available at the Volunteer Today Bookstore and at Energize, Inc. Browse through both bookstores and take your pick – from "Recognizing Volunteers and Paid Staff: The Art, The Science, and a Gazillion Ideas!" (VT site) to "77 Ways to Recognize Volunteers" (Energize site).

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Dear Connie:

Is there a law in California that states we must provide Workers Comp to our volunteers? What kind of liability is there using volunteers and how does an agency protect itself?


Dear J.R.:

I don't know about specific California law, but in my experience Workers Comp laws don't generally apply to volunteers because they aren't salaried "workers." Most nonprofit organizations have umbrella liability insurance that covers all staff, board, and volunteers against liability that might occur in the course of performing their duties for the organization. For more information on risk management issues involving volunteers, check out the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. Be sure to read the free article/tutorial on Volunteer Risk Management. The link to it is in the extreme right column about halfway down the home page. There are many good resources at this site and I encourage you to take advantage of them.

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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 AskConnieP@cs.com.
Connie Pirtle
Strategic Nonprofit Resources
10103 Edward Avenue * Bethesda, MD 20814 * VOICE: 301-530-8233 * FAX: 301-530-8299

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