VolunteerToday.com ~~ The Electronic Gazette
VT readers ask questions about volunteer
management and administration. Ask Connie, an experienced volunteer
manager, consultant and trainer, provides the answers for all to
Send questions to AskConnieP@cs.com
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?
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 youll find them! Targeted recruiting requires
deliberate action, but it's always worth the effort!
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
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
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.
I am looking for some information on the benefits of volunteering. Are volunteers
happier? Healthier? Thank you.
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,
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.
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 dont grow on trees and that
it takes time and a lot of patience to develop a program?
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!
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.
Strategic Nonprofit Resources
10103 Edward Avenue * Bethesda, MD 20814 * VOICE: 301-530-8233 * FAX: