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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.

~ September 2004 ~ Topics

Ethics: A Quick Checklist

Donations are down and some people do not want to volunteer for nonprofit organizations. The scandals of high salaries and misused funds have driven away many people. Ethics and ethical planning are a growing part of the mix for volunteer programs. Here is a quick ethical checklist when there are decisions to be made or programs to be planned.

 1. Is it fair and even-handed? Is everyone involved being treated equally? Are organizational policies promoting the fairness of activities or actions?
 Is it legal? Are you violating a policy or procedure of the organization? Is there a city, state, or federal law prohibiting the action?
 How are you going to feel when it is done? Will you be proud of what was accomplished? Could you stand to see it reported on the front page of your community's newspaper? How might you feel about yourself? Will you sleep well after the decision is made and executed?

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

Details on Better Safe Book

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Write Your Own Position Description

 Managers of volunteers usually have a position description with bland listings of what it is you do. Take 20 minutes to write a position description for your position. Include such things as qualifications, title, who you report to, and duties or responsibilities, benefits of the position, and training needed. Write it as if you were hiring someone to replace yourself and you would be working for him/her. Think about what you want in a supervisor. Put the list where you can see it once a month. Let it serve as a reminder of the type of supervisor you want to work for.

Teaching Yourself to "Check-In" with Volunteers

Knowing how volunteers are doing on a regular basis is part of management and supervision. Here is a clever way to check in with volunteers that is consistent and easy to remember.

1. Begin by listing the various volunteer positions.

2. Make a list of questions you could ask all volunteers; long term and episodic, to see how things are going.

  • "How’s it going?"
  • "Did you have enough explanation to feel comfortable doing this job?"
  • "Tell me how you would rate your progress in learning the intricacies of this position/task."

3. Then organize a set of tailored questions for different positions.

  • For one time episodic volunteers:
    • "How did Arlene teach you to do that?"
    • "How would you teach this to another volunteer?"
    • "What happens when the new crew arrives?"
    • "Tell me how you handled the situation with ____________ ." (fill in the blank)
  • For long term volunteers:
    • "I saw you last week and you seemed to be having fun. Are you still enjoying this assignment?"
    • "What have been the greatest rewards of this task?"
    • "What have been the greatest obstacles of this task?"

4. Print questions on 3 x 5 cards and keep in your pocket until you have memorized them.

5. The cards can be handy for making notes after talking to a volunteer, too.


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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