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VT 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

~ October 2004 ~ Topics

Dear Connie:
I work with an environmental organization that currently has many episodic volunteers but only a handful of key volunteers. What are the best strategies for recruiting more key volunteers?

Dear Mary:
By "key" versus "episodic" I assume that you would like to have more volunteers who will make a consistent time commitment, say weekly for 2-4 hours on a regular schedule.
In my experience, the best way to find specific types of people for specific tasks and/or time commitments is to do targeted recruiting. Using your volunteer position descriptions, I suggest you identify the "populations" that would be most suited and available for the positions, e.g., weekday or weekend during certain hours, with specific skills or attributes, able bodied to lift material, etc. Then you can decide what recruiting message is best for them and how to reach them with it. For example, if you're looking for weekday volunteers who will regularly pick up light debris along a local river, then your best bet is the self-employed, small business owners, retired people and/or college students with flexible schedules. Your message to any in this population is how they can make a difference for only a couple of hours a week. You can reach them through local listservs for small businesses and/or the university, your local AARP chapter, the community college, etc. Just think like they do and you’ll find them! Targeted recruiting requires deliberate action, but it's always worth the effort!

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Dear Connie:
I am the executive director of a very small nonprofit. We depend on 125+ volunteers annually to assist us in providing our services and programs. Many of our volunteers have been with us for 5 or more years and are greatly invested in our organization. Lately, my staff and I have noticed a real aggressiveness or "pushiness" among some of our volunteers. While we value their support and input, they at times talk to my staff harshly. They ask questions of my staff that they cannot answer. They ask my staff to do things for them that are sometimes inappropriate and take away from the work we are trying to do. The problems that have been caused by some of our volunteers disrupt our ability to do our jobs and the work of the organization. I do not know what to do with this ever-growing problem. I am fearful of going to my board to complain about volunteers, because they themselves are volunteers. I have considered a complete overhaul of our volunteer program but as I said, many of our volunteers have been with us forever and may not deal with changes. Any advice or direction would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Nan:
In my experience, when volunteers change their behavior as you described it is because they are unhappy or frustrated themselves with something. It can be as simple as their wanting new, different responsibilities because they're bored with what they've been doing for years or as complex as adapting to a new direction the organization is taking. You need to know what the underlying problems are so that you can then decide what action to take.
If there are some leadership volunteers whose judgment you trust, consider having a meeting with them to talk about the behaviors you and your staff are experiencing with volunteers. Be specific when you talk to them. You don't have to "name names" but do give specific examples of the behaviors. They may be able to provide some insight.
If you haven't done a program-wide assessment for a while, consider sending out a simple questionnaire to all volunteers asking for their input into what they like best about volunteering for your organization, what they like least, and what one thing they would change about the volunteer program (not the organization). Leave plenty of room for people to answer the questions so you can get their honest opinions. The results will undoubtedly give guide you to what's working and what isn't.
Volunteers will tell you what's wrong if you ask them. You just have to be prepared for the answers and commit to making changes if necessary. I urge you to start "listening" as soon as possible because problems don't go away. They only get larger and more difficult to manage.

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Dear Connie:
I am looking for some information on the benefits of volunteering. Are volunteers happier? Healthier? Thank you.

Dear MP:
Volunteering certainly seems to have its "tangible" benefits as well as those we experience too. I did a quick google.com search (located on VT's Archives page for easy access) for "volunteering + health study" and found several interesting articles you will like. Some titles include:

  • Boomers' key to long life? Volunteering, Study Says (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 2004)
  • Older Adults and Volunteering: Healthy Aging Benefits (Canadian study)
  • Scienceblog: The art of happiness: Is volunteering the blueprint for bliss? (September 2004)

These are just a few of the articles I found, so do you own search and choose what you need.

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Dear Connie:
I recently (3 months back) started at an agency where I am working on developing a brand new volunteer program. Prior to my involvement we had no program, no guidelines, 6 regular volunteers and sporadic help from area businesses and schools. My issue has to do with staff expectations. Some on the staff seem to believe we have truckloads of volunteers ready at hand (despite handing them a written account of our volunteer pool) and that a volunteer coordinator only has to snap her fingers to get volunteers. Any thoughts on how I can remind them that volunteers don’t grow on trees and that it takes time and a lot of patience to develop a program?

Dear VA:
The best way to set the expectations of staff for utilizing volunteers is to share with them the steps required from the moment a potential volunteer expresses interest to the day they first volunteer. Few people understand how much time is required to engage, interview, and train new volunteers.
A staff meeting is a good place to report on how many applications you received that week or how many inquiries came in. And, there's no reason you can't call a meeting yourself to review with staff just how you get volunteers for the organization. You could frame the meeting as your desire to help the staff be more effective by helping them understand how you engage volunteers to partner with them.
There are some good books at VolunteerToday.com and EnergizeInc.com on staff-volunteer partnerships and relationships. Check them out!

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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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