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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

~ February 2004 ~ Topics

Diamond Bullet Image Meetings People Beg to Attend Diamond Bullet Image

Most people hate meetings, paid staff and volunteers, alike. So how can you plan meetings that people beg to attend? Here are some tips!

  1. Plan an agenda:
    • Get input from those attending the meeting and make an agenda.
    • Send it out to everyone with an estimate of the time needed for each item.
    • Stick to your timetable. To accomplish the most at each meeting see the diagram at the end of the article.
    • Put a copy of the agenda on easel paper or in a handout.
  2. Encourage participation:
    • Participation can be by putting someone in charge of an item on the agenda. Let them lead the discussion.
    • Work with the people who are presenting to plan for involvement by participants.
  3. Plan short breaks:
    • The usual rule is 15 to 20 minute breaks. Cut the breaks to 5 – 8 minutes.
    • Just enough breaks for trips to the rest room or bathroom or to stretch in the hall.
    • These types of breaks help keep people alert.
  4. Invite people with different points of view:
    • Keep the domineering members under control.
    • Ask people for an opinion, “Say, Juan, we haven’t heard from you. What do you think about this?”
    • Ask for different views in a planned way; list the pros and cons; positive and negative, etc.
    • Break people into small groups to discuss topics. Then the groups give different views on the topic.
  5. Use real-life examples:
    • Discussing forms, make sure everyone has one.
    • Stories from real situations.
    • Case studies, based on reality, can be used to make decisions and promote discussion.
  6. Summarize meetings:
    • Do a short verbal summary of what was accomplished at the meeting.
    • Create a meeting summary to share with those who could not attend in writing. Distribute to everyone.
    • Attach a separate sheet “To Do List” for those who volunteered to do things after the meeting. Color paper brings attention to it!

“Studies have show that how you organize the content of a meeting can also impact what is accomplished and how satisfied people are with meetings. We have created a document you can print that illustrates the best way to organize a meeting. You will need Adobe Acrobat to download this diagram, but Adobe Acrobat is free! (http://www.adobe.com). Take a look at the time frame for a two hour meeting and how to organize it for maximum effectiveness.”

Link to Meeting Structure graphic

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The Volunteer Newsletter

"We don’t need a paper newsletter anymore, we send information out via email!" 'Our folks hate email, we only do a paper newsletter." "What newsletter?!?!?!?"

If those words are things you have said, or something like them, you need to read on. Here are some ideas on the venerable volunteer newsletter.

The Paper Mailed Newsletter

Newpapers ImageThe venerable paper newsletter to all volunteers is an institution for some volunteer programs. Consider the cost:

  • How many hours to write it? Multiple hours by a fair hourly wage for the person doing it (even if they are a volunteer!)
  • How many hours to format it?
  • How much paper is used? (toner, copier time, etc.)
  • Time to assemble and prepare to mail?
  • Cost to mail?
  • Trips to post office?

The mailed newsletter has positive characteristics. You can do longer articles highlighting volunteers, or tips on being a better volunteer, for example. You can put in a monthly calendar of events, meetings, or training sessions. It is a regular connection with the person who is volunteering. This keeps the organization in the mind of the volunteer.

But, all the positives have to be balanced against the cost. Many managers of volunteers think that if a volunteer does the newsletter, it is free, but that volunteer could be doing something else with that time that might be more effective and needed. And some trees might be saved by going paperless.

It might be time to do a serious analysis of this type of newsletter and the value of continuing it into the future.

The Web-Based Newsletter

This is where you write a newsletter and post it on the organization’s Web site. Volunteers receive an email message that the newsletter is posted, with a hot link directly to the site in the body of the email. There is still the time required to write and format it, but there is no paper, copying, ink, postage, or trips to the postal office. So, money and some time are save. In fact, once a template is established for this newsletter it could be done in short order.

The down side of this endeavor is that not everyone is on the Web or has the sophistication to download a newsletter. And you need someone with some familiarity with designing and writing for the Web. It is not the same as writing for a paper newsletter.

Reading on the computer is 25% less efficient than reading on paper, and those pesky pixels are tough on the eyes. Most people find a long document, like a newsletter, they download it, print and then try to get around to reading it.

There are possible solutions to the problems:

  • Put the newsletter into a PDF format for ease of printing. Readers will thank you.
  • If the newsletter is easy to print, copies can be mailed to those without Web access.
  • Records need to be kept on where and how people prefer to receive information.
The E-mail Newsletter

Email messages do not newsletters make! Do not write looooooong email messages, call them email newsletters and sent them out. Email was never intended to be lengthy and it really annoys people.

But, email can be used with an attached document. This is a solution between the paper newsletter and the Web newsletter. A written newsletter is compiled and formatted. It is saved in a printable version (Word or PDF). Then an email is sent with the newsletter attached. The attachment can be downloaded and printed if the person wishes to do so, or they can read on the screen. For people with no computers the newsletter can be printed by staff and mailed. It is cheaper than the paper mailed newsletter, but more expensive than the Web-based newsletter.

FAX Newsletter
A fax machine can be used to distribute a written newsletter to everyone in the volunteer corps, or just to those who cannot receive it in a more economical fashion. This is also a useful tool for all-volunteer organizations. Everyone who has a fax machine receives the newsletter via fax, only those without a fax receive it in the mail. Again, good record keeping is essential to any of these options.

Written communication to long-term continuous service volunteers, “the regulars,” is a good motivational tool, but the delivery mechanism needs to be cost effective. Perhaps it is time to form a “newsletter” team and begin the process of doing it more effectively and efficiently.

Be The Organizational Expert on Volunteerism

The vast majority of those who manage volunteers come with different career or academic backgrounds. In fact, people who work in nonprofit programs usually have no formal training in the special skills needed to manage in the third sector. Administrators in government agencies with volunteer programs have little or no knowledge of volunteerism. This strange set of circumstances provides a huge avenue for someone in an organization to become the “expert” on volunteerism. Not knowledge in an arrogant or overbearing manner, but knowledge that can help the organization and the people in it grow and develop.

The manager of volunteer programs can become that expert, thus increasing his/her value to the organization. Obviously participating in college or certificate programs can help you do this, but not every manager of volunteers has the time or money to do that. Here are some alternate strategies to increase your knowledge.

Build your vocabulary. Learn the lingo. Help the organization understand there are terms used in volunteerism by academics and practitioners. Episodic volunteer is the correct terminology for those who provide short-term service of several types to the organization, for example. Insist on a title that accurately reflects the job of the person who manages volunteers. Not “volunteer manager,” as this implies a volunteer is managing something. How about: Manager of volunteer services; coordinator of volunteers, director of volunteers.

Read the right publications. Vocabulary is built by reading the material related to the profession. In managing volunteers or working in a nonprofit those publications are things such as The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Grapevine, Volunteer Today, Energize Web site, e-Volunteerism, Journal of Volunteer Administration.Scholar Image

Read a daily newspaper. Scan the newspaper each day for articles relating to nonprofits and volunteerism. For example, two topics impacting nonprofits in 2004 are the loss of contributions and misuse of funds by some organizations. Read what is being written on these topics. When you see a good idea or have a question, talk to the administrator. Your knowledge and interest in the total organization will be noticed. If a discussion is underway at a staff meeting about money, ask about “transparency.” (See article on the News page of this newsletter if you don’t know what the word means in the world of volunteerism). You will surprise people with your professional expertise.

Do some research. When you encounter terms or words used in your organization that are unfamiliar, find out what they mean. This is the “Look it up” admonition. The same is true for volunteerism terms. Type the word into “Google” and find out what it means. Then use it. It is not showing off. Accountants, doctors, teachers use language and terms particular to their profession, so should the manager of volunteer programs. And it encourages people in your organization to use the right vocabulary as well.


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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