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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.

~ May 2005 ~ Topics

What Does the Consumer Think?

Many volunteer programs have consumers; clients, customers, patrons of services provided by volunteers. One role of the manager of volunteers is to ensure that the volunteers are providing needed services to those consumers, eliminating services no longer needed, and keeping the volunteer and the consumers well informed about the mutuality of their relationship. How can you do this? Try this technique.

Strategy Explanation
1. Who are the consumers of the service provided by what the volunteers give?
  • Who is the consumer: Is it the patron at a regional theater? An elderly person receiving a hot meal? A shut in getting books from a county library? The visitors to a park or recreation area? You need to know in the specific and the general who the consumer is. In large volume programs this might require a random survey of consumers a couple times during a year. The more you know about these folks the better to meet needs.
2. What do the consumers think about the service they are receiving from volunteers?
  • There are many ways to gather information; telephone follow-up calls, quick surveys, or focus groups. The method used depends on the size of a program and available resources. Sometimes this work is best done by an outsider. No money, you say? Talk with a social work or sociology department at a nearby college; they might be interested in donating services for such a project.
3. What are the areas of interest for these consumers?
  • Perhaps your organization has been providing X service, but people no longer need X to a great degree, but the need for Z as a service is huge. This information can help you design new positions that more closely meet the needs of the consumers.
4. Who influences your consumer?
  • It is important to know who is the greatest influence on the people in this group. Why? As you change programs, services, or projects, the "influencers" can help explain changes. This can avoid conflict and unhappiness. The "who" can be everything from a Senior Newspaper to specific people in the organization. That is why it is important to find out who and what are the greatest influence.

Once you can answer the questions listed above, you are in a position to change the things volunteers do. And it is likely that needs will be met to a greater degree.

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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Coaching Questions

Coaching involves delegating--giving to another person tasks or duties to complete or organize a task, event, or project. It is a means to train a volunteer to take on more responsibility. And it is nerve wracking. The manager of volunteers can lower his/her anxiety level by asking the right questions. Try these.

1. Can you review what we have discussed and tell me what you see as your responsibilities and what responsibilities I have?
2. What in your view are the most important points we just covered?
3. Tell me the things I didnt make clear to you?
4. Do you see any options in how to do this? What are they?
5. What are the areas where you disagree with me on how to get this job done?
6. Tell me what else you need to know.

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Your Image Is Important!

The manager of volunteers can increase levels of influence by some attention to his/her image. Getting ahead in a organization, building credibility for the work of the volunteers, getting a raise, becoming part of the management team, and engendering respect can be enhanced by more than just showing up to do your job. Here are some tips to create some positive "spin" on your image.

1. Do more than is asked. When was the last time you clipped a newspaper or journal article related to the work of the organization and circulated it to leaders in the group? Have you volunteered to help another staff member with a pesky problem lately? Supervisors notice that type of behavior. Think of those people in the organization who are willing to go the extra mile . . . everyone appreciates them.

2. Find supporters. If you are uncomfortable "tooting your own horn" then ask others who appreciate you to do so! And make it reciprocal. "Gosh, Marla, if you think that I had a good idea I wish you would say so at staff meeting. I’ll do the same for you."

3. Tend to your image. Image is not about clothes, although looking professional sure helps! Are you on time? Do you follow-through? Can others rely on you? Are you courteous to everyone? Do people describe you as gracious? Those are image issues and fixing them doesn't mean buying a new wardrobe.

4. Act like a professional. A true professional stays current in his/her field. Would you go to an attorney or doctor who said, "Gosh, I am so busy I don't have time to attend local meetings of my professional association or read journal articles." Of course not! Join a local professional association of managers of volunteer programs. If one doesn't exist, contact colleagues in other organizations and get one started. Read about your discipline in one of the journals designed for those who work with volunteers. Budget for training.

5. Build your reputation outside the organization. Visibility is part of your image. Become an expert in managing volunteers. Be the person everyone goes to when the question is "volunteerism." Offer to speak at conventions or conferences; local, regional, national, or international. That visibility boomerangs back to the leaders in your organization. It makes the organization look good and you 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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