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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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~ July 2004 ~ Topics

Command Respect

Surveys of employees show that one of the things important to them at work is "being respected." How does a manager of volunteers make that happen? Here are some tips.

  • Dress the part. If you want people to take you seriously, you need to dress the part. This does not mean a new wardrobe or expensive jewelry, but it does mean higher-level professional attire; skirt and blouse, suits on the days of big meetings, slacks with shirt and vest or sweater. Keep jewelry and/or make-up understated.
  • Give more than the minimum. Organize the volunteer program to consistently be helpful in "crunch" times. Work the occasional early morning or early evening hours to help accomplish the necessary tasks. Find volunteers willing to work on short notice and utilize them to help others. People respect individuals who are alert to needs and have the talent and skill to help out.
  • "Do unto others..." You need to give what you expect to receive. Behave in a way that is respectful of everyone in the organization. Listen, even when you do not agree with someone, respect others opinions, treat everyone fairly, never, ever bad mouth volunteers or paid staff, and learn names and faces and use them. Give respect and it will come back at you.Screen Bean Handshake Image
  • Be a knowledgeable professional. Belong to a professional association. Read professional journals. (There are six that write about the field of managing volunteers and nonprofit organizations.) Share your knowledge with volunteers, your supervisors, and other staff. Help educate the paid staff on working effectively with volunteers, and not in a patronizing way. Professionals gain respect by staying current in the skills in their field. For example, if you are not formally organizing the episodic volunteer work in your organization, get started. And help the organization see that the structural changes in the culture (family life, work life, marriage, etc.) are going to impact more than just the way people volunteer and it is time to examine the way business is done.
  • Promote a professional atmosphere in the work environment. Be calm, set systems in place, keep everyone well informed, take advantage of training the organization makes available and that provided exclusively for those who manage volunteers. No matter the crisis, a good manager is the center of calm and sanity. It will be noticed.

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Risk Management Tool Online

Volunteer Australia has a new manual on volunteer risk management according to Grapevine. "Running the Risk? Risk Management Tool for Volunteer Involving Organisations" is available online at http://www.volunteeringaustralia.org/risk.shtml. There are worksheets and case studies. The aim of the document is to help volunteer programs create risk management plans that give volunteers confidence in the organization for which they are providing service.

Available from Grapevine: The Volunteer Manager’s Newsletter, $25.00, call 800-272-8306.

Interested in more information on volunteer management and supervision? Check out our online bookstore for Better Safe...Risk Management in Volunteer Programs and Community Service, authored by Linda Graff.

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Tips To Work With Almost Anyone

Managers of volunteers are frequently required to work with a vast array of personality types. Here are some tips to help you work with just about anyone.

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Start by determining who is "different" and who is difficult. People with a working style that is different from yours can seem "difficult" when in fact they are just different. For example, someone who is a stickler for details can drive the creative-big-picture-thinker crazy. Learning to prize the "attention to detail person" for what they bring to a project is a first step toward accepting and celebrating the value of differences.
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A difficult person is difficult to others. It is rare that a difficult person is only difficult to one person. The individual's behavior often influences everyone else as being non-helpful. They might do things like withholding key pieces of information, consistently becoming over-emotional, or being rude. Observe the person's behavior with others.
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Determine if the behavior impacts you directly. Does what the individual works on directly impact what you need to accomplish in a day, week, month, or year? If the answer is yes, then coping skills are in order.
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Write a note to yourself, "I cannot change someone else’s personality." You need to accept that your stress is being cause by wanting to "fix" something that is beyond your capacity to change. Difficulty people didn't become that way overnight. And they are unlikely to change under your guidance. So the only behavior you can change is your own.
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Be kind but direct. If the difficult person's behavior is destructive to the program, other volunteers or paid staff, or the health of the organization, it should not be ignored. You must identify who owns the problem and then communicate, with specifics, what the problem is and directly explain the needed solutions.
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Be sure to focus on behavior not on the person. Solutions to problems need to focus on what is needed to correct the situation. Avoid words like "attitude," rather focus on a specific behavior and what needs to change. "I feel frustrated when you leave your work station with no explanation; leaving clients to wonder if anyone is in the building. I need you to notify your supervisor or another volunteer, if you must leave your post." Hard to argue with such a request.

It is important to remember that you do not have to be "best friends" with every single volunteer. What is important for the manager of volunteers is to create a rational, productive relationship that aims to accomplish the mission of the organization.


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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