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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.

~ January 2005~ Topics

Charities Can Be Sued. How Is Your Risk Management Plan?

Virginia has a law saying nonprofits cannot be sued over routine mistakes by employees or volunteers. The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that a nonprofit can be sued when there are serious errors based on extreme negligence. The ruling came from a lawsuit filed by the daughter of a Hospice patient who was injured in a residential facility. The patient was moved resulting in a broken bone, which became infected, leading to amputation, and subsequent death of the patient. Lower courts had dismissed the case based on Virginia's law prohibiting such suits. The Supreme Court disagreed and said, the case could go to trial, because the law was never intended to protect the nonprofit from acts of extreme negligence. Many states have similar legislation.

Is it time to check out the risk management plan for your volunteer program? Here is a checklist to see if you are headed in the right direction.

Risk Management Checklist

Directions: Read the statements below and put a check mark by the items you are currently doing to manage risks.

1. ____ There is a risk management committee for our volunteer program.

2. ____ We have a risk management expert to advise the committee and director of volunteer services.

3. ____ There is a risk management assessment of all volunteer positions.

4. ____ Volunteer training includes a section on the issues of risk management for the clients, patrons, customers and the organization.

5. ____ There is adequate insurance to cover volunteers, related to potential risk.

6. ____ There is a risk management plan review done annually.

To learn more about your knowledge and risk management practices visit the Nonprofit Risk Management Center and take the free online assessment.

Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for Better Safe...Risk Management for Volunteer Programs & Community Service and Yes You Can! Discipline and Dismissal of Volunteers Audio Workshop, both authored by Linda Graff.

Details for Better Safe Risk Management Book Details for Yes You Can Book

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Recommendations on "Volunteer Sustainability"

The Aspen Institute nonprofit research section has released a new report examining how organizations can successfully retain effective volunteers. The study was done by E. Gil Clary, Mark Snyder, and Keilah Worth. The study is titled, "The Volunteer Organization Environment: Key Dimensions and Distinctions." The authors of the study wanted answers to questions about the match between volunteers, and the tasks the organization needed done. Researchers studied the social climate, environment, and "personality" of 85 nonprofits where volunteers are involved in service delivery. Here are some findings that impact on the management and supervision of volunteers. For the full report go to http://www.nonprofitresearch.org.

  • Organizations should have training programs, handbooks, formal policies and procedures, and hire coordinators of volunteers to enhance satisfaction among volunteers.
  • Use performance evaluations with volunteers to monitor progress, leading to expansion of responsibilities for the volunteer.
  • Pay attention to the "fit" between the volunteer and the job they are doing.
  • Health related organizations provide ample personal development activities for volunteers, but fewer social opportunities.
  • Emotions are strong indicators of whether a volunteer will stay with an organization. Emotions that seem to impact a cross section of organizations are seated in values, understanding and career motivations.

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Tips to Facilitate Positive Communication in Meetings

Meetings bog down, go off track, and volunteers complain. Here are some tips to deal with specific problems.

1. Problem:
Difficult person is ruining meetings

  • Set a tone. Tell the people attending that you don't expect everyone to agree, that all viewpoints being heard make for better decisions. Say what you think, but no criticism of others.
  • Address the behavior. Ask the difficult person if what they are doing, saying, or suggesting is contributing to the topic of the meeting. "So, Sarah, how is that related to our solving this problem?"
  • Ask the person to leave the meeting. A tough and last resort choice, but sometimes necessary for the health of the project or plan. End the meeting and talk to the person immediately. Give them feedback based on behavior. "I noticed in the meeting how you were sitting and how many 'I' statements you made. This behavior is negatively impacting the work the group is able to accomplish. For this reason, I am removing you from this committee.

2. Problem:
Getting off the topic

  • Get a clarity check. Ask how the conversation is related to the purpose of the meeting. Move the discussion back onto the topic, through a review or restating the purpose of the meeting.
  • Create a "parking lot." At every meeting have a sheet of easel paper on the wall (label it Parking Lot) and a supply of post-it-notes. When ideas off the topic come up, but are worthy of discussion, ask the person to write on the post-it and put it on the easel "parking lot." And be sure to visit the topic later in the meeting or at a subsequent meeting.
  • Summaries. Periodically in the meeting do a summary of what has been said and what is left to be done. This has the effect of dealing with minor digressions or when a small group is engaged in a side topic, not related to the agenda.

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The World Futurist Society magazine, The Futurist, has issued a compilation of trends outlined in its magazine over the past year. Here are trends that have the capacity to impact aspects of organizing and managing volunteer programs. Last month's issue of Volunteer Today carried a similar list but with different topics.

One third of the world’s population will be online within ten years.
Advertising will be harder to avoid in the future. Look for ads in restrooms, from cab drivers, and with people volunteering to promote commercial products.
Homeowners and neighborhoods will gain more control over energy. New technologies could lead to better distributed power systems with a move away from centralized power grids.
Tree farms might have impact on saving trees in wilderness areas. Trees can be grown in specialized orchards, depending on the end use of the product—paper, furniture, or building materials, to name a few.
Greed may have its demise in Western culture. More people are disenchanted with owning "things" and are looking instead for the spiritual and caring sides of life. The proportion of people expressing such ideas grew from 5% in the 1960's to 26% in the United States in the 21st century. In Australia 23% of adults, aged 30-59 have downsized their lives in the last ten years.
Older workers might expand the workday. Older workers are sharpest in the morning hours and might like to work from 6:30 a.m to 2:30 p.m., allowing younger workers to come in later in the morning.
Workers will retire later—or not at all. Strains on pensions and insufficient savings will force more people to work longer than they had planned. This is also likely to bring more flexible schedules.
Skills for future workers include the ability to work on a team, solve complex problems, and communicate clearly in print and in person.

From "The Futurist" November-December 2004


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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