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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.

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~ January 2004 ~ Topics

Clouds and Sun Image Create a Climate of Trust

Volunteers operate more effectively when they work in an environment of trust. The tips below are applicable to the manager of volunteers and staff who supervise volunteers. Share it; trust is a powerful motivator!

  • Do not withhold information. Keep volunteers well informed, even with the bad stuff.
  • Never spy on volunteers. Make sure your guidelines for a task or job are crystal clear, set timelines, have a monitoring process, and then get out of the way and let the volunteers do the work.
  • Admit when you make mistakes. Volunteers have respect for the person who owns up to their failings, laughs at themselves, and moves on. It makes the ultimate human connection.
  • Never abandon volunteers. Support volunteers and their efforts, it pays off in the long run.
  • Be clear when assigning task. Volunteers are neither weak nor meek. Be clear about the challenges in any task. Be straightforward. Never manipulate or apologize. Just tell it like it is!

Building Consensus

Community based organizations are increasingly being urged to collaborate with others. There is a growing emphasis on building consensus around decisions in an organization where several departments are involved. Volunteer projects of long standing are shifting and changing in response to the way people want to give service (less long term, more episodic). The up shot of all this activity is the need for managers of volunteers and others to develop skills in building consensus. Here are some tips to do just that.

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1. Select the team with care. This is not advice to bring all the people who think alike together. It is advised to bring people together that have respect for those who are different. For example, for some people logic and planning are the way to build consensus, for others people need to feel right about change before it can happen. Having people on the team representing those two views means the plans for change are more likely to work for greater numbers of people.
Bullet Image 2. Respect both thinking and feeling opinions. Truth is truth to the person speaking their opinion. What must be dealt with in any plan is that “truth” to that individual. Being validated for one’s opinions is a motivator to participate and listen to others. And that can lead to a willingness to flex when it is called for.
Bullet Image 3. Depending on the group, how long it will be together, and many other factors, it might be wise to have an outsider administer one of the more reputable personality inventories. A short session (say four hours) can help people understand one another better and make it easier to get to consensus. The Meyers Briggs Type Inventory is excellent for this. Be sure you have a certified administrator (it IS a psychological instrument, after all), and the real test, not something off the Internet.
Bullet Image 4. Create shared experiences. Teams work best when they create their own history. It allows for a common experience that is both explanatory and emotional. An example of this might be the sharing of data about the project on which the group is working. Then an exercise of discussing “Glads, Sads, Mads” allows the team to discuss values, beliefs, attitudes, and thinking on the topic. All this is in an effort to move toward consensus.
Bullet Image 5. Make sure there are loads and loads of communication. The team needs to see and hear a variety of types of information, presented in many different formats as the process of coming to consensus moves along. It also includes mixing the group up in small group exercise to reduce cliques or individuals banding together. Team building exercises are essential, even as the work is being done.

Proof Reading

Managers of volunteers are always in the midst of creating some type of written material; brochures, applications, position descriptions, web information, email newsletter, and the list seems endless. Here are some tips on proof reading to avoid those nasty typos.

  • Write it. Let it sit 24 hours. Then re-read it!
  • Read it aloud and don’t skip words.
  • Proof when it is quiet, even if it means coming in early or going home late.
  • Assume you will find mistakes.Book Owl Image
  • Read for one type of error at a time; verify all dates and times; check all phone numbers; check the spelling of all names; etc.
  • Take breaks. Do not proof read for longer than 45 minutes or one hour before taking a break.
  • Get someone with excellent English (or other language) grammar and spelling skills. Ask them to proof read for spelling and typos.
  • Use your computer to do grammar and spell check, but be careful, the computer isn’t always right.


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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