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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.

~ November 2005 ~ Topics

Managing: A Process View

Sometimes it seems as if managing volunteers is just a matter of "getting it done." This is a shortsighted view. The process used to manage volunteers of a project is important. It provides for continuity, usually involving the type of communication that yields success. It forces a person to organize, often verbalizing, what will be done before jumping in with both feet. Here is one system to manage that could be used with volunteers or a project.

Management Process
(The chart contains samples of how a plan might be developed. It is not complete.)

Step Definition Volunteer Program Project or Event
Goals These are open-ended statements that reflect the wishes of the group.
  • Volunteers work in a team with staff to achieve the mission of the organization.
  • Volunteers have the opportunity to develop personal and/or professional skills.
  • The event will showcase the mission of the organization.
  • The event will raise resources to achieve the mission of the organization.
Objectives Statements of specific measurable items. These statements NEVER say how to do something, but what will be done.
  • Volunteers will make up 30% of the total workforce of the organization.
  • Volunteer involvement will increase by 20% over the next year.
  • The event will raise $12,000.
  • The event will involve 150 participants.
Action Items Action items get specific with how you will accomplish the objectives.
  • Organize an on-going, year round volunteer recruiting team.
  • Revise the application process to gather more information from volunteers about their desires.
  • Organize, by January 1 an active event committee of 12 to carry out the event.
  • Train the event committee in planning, communication, and teamwork.
Resources Development Five elements must be considered in any plan.
  1. Time Needed
  2. Workforce
  3. Money
  4. Resources
  5. Authority
When planning recruiting, these five items should appear on a chart with details to follow:
  • Time - is it a year of recruiting or a short spurt, how long to complete tasks.
  • Workforce - how many people will it take to recruit.
  • Money - budget (every volunteer program should have one!).
  • Resources - what material is needed to complete the job.
  • Authority - who is responsible for each part of the task.
  • Time - time needed for planning, the event and evaluation .
  • Workforce - how many and what types of people are needed to complete the task.
  • Money - Event should pay for itself and then some, build a budget—bare bones budget and then a luxury budget.
  • Resources - what is needed to carry out the event and where can you get it for free.
  • Authority - who can sign contracts, work with vendors, count money.
Control Systems Establish a system to make sure that plans are on target.
  • Check in meetings for volunteer recruiting team.
  • Electronic submission system for volunteer follow-up.
  • Ad Hoc committee to revise application process (2 months).
  • Regular check-in meetings.
  • Executive team of committee does electronic up dates weekly.
  • Meet with administrator weekly for update.
Carry out Tasks This is when the project or activity is underway. This is a time requiring excellent communication and sensitivity to the needs of paid staff and volunteers.
  • Recruitment efforts are carried out in the designated places.
  • The event takes place.
Evaluation This is the opportunity to assess the goals and objectives and plan for the future.
  • Did you accomplish what you set out to do?
  • Are you satisfied with the results?
  • Did the planning process go as expected?
  • Were resources used wisely?
  • What would you change in the future?
  • Did you accomplish what you set out to do?
  • Are you satisfied with the results?
  • Did the planning process go as expected?
  • Were resources used wisely?
  • What would you change in the future?

Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for Secrets of Leadership by Rick Lynch & Sue Vineyard and Risk Management: Strategies for Managing Volunteer Programs by Sarah Henson and Rick Lynch.

Details for Secrets of Leadership Book Details for Risk Management Book

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Coping with Difficult People: The Bulldozer

Difficult people are not difficult in the same way. So coping with difficult people can take decidedly different turns depending on what the person is doing. The "Bulldozer" is the individual who knows everything and is not shy about sharing that fact. Often they convey a superiority of attitude that leaves others feeling totally inadequate. Sometimes the Bulldozer is in fact an expert, but in other cases he/she just acts like they are an expert, but is really not knowledgeable. Here are some tips to cope with the Bulldozer.

1. For coping with someone who is an expert:

  • Follow the Boy Scout motto—Be Prepared. Be sure you have all the information needed and have checked accuracy before meeting with the person.
  • Use active listening when dealing with the person. Listen for main points and paraphrase what the person has said so you know you understand and the individual knows you understand.
  • Ask for more details. Ask questions that help to flesh out the plan, idea, or issue. This helps to re-examine the issues and can help tone down the Bulldozer.
  • Options are better than edicts. If you need to disagree, be tentative, but do not back down. Use questions to get agreement.
  • Watch your own tendency to be a bulldozer. Bulldozers can force people into bulldozing back. Make every effort to restrain from being a know-it-all (another type of difficult person!).
  • Be sure to appreciate. Let the person know how much you appreciate their input or knowledge on the topic.

2. For coping with the Bulldozer who really knows nothing:

  • Provide facts. Give the person factual details with supporting documentation, if necessary or alternate opinions.
  • Deal with the person one-to-one. It is important to allow this person to save face, so meet with them outside the work site area or meeting. Present them with facts in private to preserve embarrassment all around.
  • Provide a way out. If the bulldozer is in a group setting the manager of volunteers needs to be prepared with a statement to give the person a way out. "Oh, I am sure we just misunderstood what you meant." Then move on. Do not dwell on previous statements.


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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