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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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~ November 2004 ~ Topics

Building Volunteer Confidence

In August 2004, a Brookings study report showed that 33% of Americans said they lacked confidence in the ability of nonprofit and voluntary programs to spend donations wisely and deliver services. The erosion of public confidence in charitable organizations and programs has continued a steady decline since 9/11.

What can the manager of volunteers do to help people most familiar with the organization carry the message outside that your organization is credible, spending money wisely, and delivering services to meet the needs. Here are some tips.

  1. Start by downloading the Brookings Institution study and distribute to the leaders in your organization. It is available free at "The Continued Crisis in Charitable Confidence" at http://www.brookings.edu.
  2. Encourage your organization to initiate "transparency" in all its financial operations.
  3. Be sure the volunteers see and understand information related to budgets.
  4. For programs where the manager of volunteers has budgetary responsibilities, create an advisory committee who has as one of its responsibilities a review of the budget.
  5. Account for every penny and keep no secrets.
  6. Set program delivery goals. Publicize the goals to all volunteers and review the progress toward the goals on a quarterly basis.
  7. Do not be afraid to share statistics on program delivery to the volunteers. Even someone who answers the phone wants to know how his or her contribution helps achieve the mission of the organization.
  8. Equip volunteers to answer questions about the organization, its services and finances.

Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for Volunteer Management: Mobilizing All the Resources of the Community, authored by Steve McCurley and Rick Lynch, and Building Effective Volunteer Committess, authored by Nancy Macduff.

Details for Volunteer Management Book Details for Building Effective Volunteer Committees Book

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Managing the Spontaneous Volunteer

Disasters, hurricanes, floods, volcanoes, or other emergencies bring out the spontaneous volunteer. They just show up to help. How to manage this kindly, but inexperienced and untrained volunteer can be challenging. There is help. The Points of Light Foundation recently created a booklet "Managing Spontaneous Volunteers in Times of Disaster." It lists principles for organizations that will be working with volunteers under these circumstances. The booklet is available at: http://www.pointsoflight.org/downloads/pdf/programs/disaster/brochure.pdf.

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Virtual Volunteering

Virtual volunteering engages volunteers who do their tasks totally or partly via the Internet - email, chat room, blog, Web, etc. It is also called "cyber volunteering" or "online volunteering." People seek these types of positions for a variety of reasons; time constraints, personal preferences, a disability, or home obligations that prevent them from volunteering in person.

This type of volunteering needs to be planned and organized with the same care used in the planning the face-to-face type of volunteering. Virtual volunteering has been around long enough for there to be ample resources to help you get started with this new and effective form of volunteering. Serviceleader.org is an excellent place to begin your planning. The site has resources on such things as safety in online volunteering programs, establishing a virtual volunteer program, and a guidebook. To find these resources visit the VT Internet Resource page and select "Online Volunteering" from the pull-down menu. From there, you can either go directly to the ServiceLeader.org web site or read a short description about it.

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Communication Strategies to Get 100% Performance

Recent studies show that having good relationships with volunteers occurs most often when communication is clear and purposeful. Getting the most from volunteers happens when the sender is deliberate in the methods of communication. Here are some tips to make that happen.

  • Avoid interrupting, it gives the impression you are rushed and have no time for the volunteer.
  • No need to fill every silence with your voice. Learn to sit quietly while a volunteer thinks.
  • Do not treat behavior as good or bad. No judgments. Focus on fixing or improving the problem.
  • Be honest. Do not sugarcoat information. That can be misinterpreted. Ignoring negatives does not make them go away.
  • Do not wait to be asked for help. Get out and see what is happening and just wade in and help.
  • Be sure goals for the program and the volunteers are clear and easy to understand.
  • Be sure volunteers understand the result of their efforts. Tell them the impact of all their work on clients, members, participants, patrons.
  • Provide undivided attention. Time is the most precious commodity of most managers of volunteers. When the volunteer needs you, pay attention or schedule a time when you can pay attention.
  • Be excited about your job. It is catching. If you love what you do, others will notice and be equally excited.
  • Praise effectively and personally. Know the volunteer well enough to say or do the thing that is most meaningful for them.
  • Praise volunteers at meetings, even the all-staff meetings.


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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