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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.

~ July 2005 ~ Topics

Tips to Remembering

It could be a presentation to a community group, a committee meeting, or just a conversation with a volunteer. You go for a thought and come up empty. Your mind is blank and you can't think of a thing to say! Here are some tips on how to deal with this inevitable fact of getting older and having way too much stored in your brain!

  • In public speaking, you can prevent lapses by practicing out loud and frequently. Never try to memorize, that is a sure fired way to get trapped with the empty feeling. Understanding what you are saying and to whom is one of the keys to successful public speaking.
  • If a group is small and you draw a blank, ask the person who asked a question to repeat it and ask the group how they would answer that question.
  • In some situations it helps to have bullet points or notes to keep you on track. Not the exact speech, but trigger points to help you stay on target. They also serve as memory cues.
  • If you use notes in speaking, print them in large print, and maybe color. Don't hesitate to refer to them. Be sure they are easy to read. Use large type font.
  • Try repeating what you just said or something that is parallel to it. Sometimes that helps the brain kick into gear with the information you need.
  • Ask for help. "What was I saying?," is not anything to be embarrassed about. Everyone has had similar experiences and is sympathetic. And people like to help. Just keep it simple and move on. Do not dwell on the momentary lapse. It is a normal part of public speaking.

Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for Handling Problem Volunteers and Best Practices for Volunteer Programs, both authored by Steve McCurley and Sue Vineyard.

Details for Handling Problem Volunteers Book Details for Best Practices Book

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Releasing a Volunteer

In the course of managing volunteers it sometimes becomes necessary to let a volunteer go. Most managers of volunteers pray for a board member to leave or direct service volunteer to move to Florida, Arizona, or Spain! Not an effective solution if the volunteer is damaging the program. There are two stages of releasing a volunteer: Building the Case and Severance.

Building the Case
Talk to the Person If it has come to your attention that there is a problem with a volunteer, start with the volunteer. Ask how they think things are going. Sometimes this will bring the problem into the open. Sometimes problems can be resolved easily with review of the position description or the organizational policies.
Investigate If a personal meeting does not solve the problem, the next step is investigation. Talk to those reporting the problem and ask them to be specific—time, date, place, and circumstance. And ask them to please log any similar incidents while you continue looking into the situation.
Check Expectations While investigating visit, the area where the volunteer is working, see what other volunteers are doing. Check the position description and its match to actual work. Review policies related to the situation. Check procedures for releasing a volunteer (Don't have them? Now is the time to get them!).
Chain of Command Keep your supervisor fully informed of the situation and ask that he/she keep top administration informed about the situation. Be sure you have support to act.
Corrective Action Outline the problem to the volunteer. Talk about job duties and relate the problem to the duties, not the person. "Our policies require that volunteers do X. This has not been done for over three months." Stick to facts. Ask the person how they would like to correct the situation. Put the plan in writing and share with the volunteer and your supervisor. Monitor, monitor, monitor!

Maintain Privacy Assuming that all efforts to correct the behavior of the volunteer have failed, severance is the only option. Ask for a meeting, but in private. Do this so other volunteers are not privy to the meeting even taking place. You need to be free of distractions.
Be Clear Begin with clarity and honesty. Get to the point. The news is not good. And that is how the conversation should start. Do not butter up the volunteer, only to dismiss them. Let them know that things are not working out.
Outbursts There might be emotional outbursts. Never tell people to calm down or be reasonable. You cannot know what they are feeling and remarks like that can come across as condescending.
Safety People respond differently to bad news and sometimes there is little to predict what someone will do. If you are concerned, take along your supervisor to the meeting. Consider your own safety in the event of a worst-case scenario.
Offer Help Sometimes a volunteer is misplaced. Wrong organization. Wrong job tasks. But there might be a place in another organization. Offer to open doors for the person in areas where they might be happier doing the required tasks. Make some calls to colleagues in other organizations about placements.
You are Not a Bad Person Forgive yourself for being the person carrying bad news. You did not do this, you worked to salvage the volunteer’s position, and you acted in a professional manner. Let it go and move on to the important tasks ahead.

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The Perfect Document

The brochure is designed, the words chosen, everyone loves it, and it comes back from the printer with two typos, or no phone number, or the incorrect URL for the Web site. How can you and the volunteers working with documents avoid those mistakes? Create a checklist to follow to ensure the perfect document. Everyone follows all the steps when designing anything from handouts for training to a recruitment brochure.

Write concisely - Bullets, no long sentences, no big words, simple.
Be simple and straightforward - Short sentences, no fancy words, plain clear words.
Read the text out loud. Read aloud to pick up confusing writing and typos.
Have someone who has not seen the document proof read for typos and confusing syntax. DO NOT rely on spell check in your computer. It can miss things because of the way you spelled something (two, to, too).
Revise. Never be afraid of revising work. It works better when you do revise. Rare is the author who skips rewriting and editing. And it is likely you will revise more than once.


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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