managers of volunteers have been confronted by the spontaneous volunteer.
"Hi! My name is Martha and I wondered if I could volunteer for a
few hours today?" And she is standing in front of you. Send her away?
Get her to sign up for the next orientation? Send her to another organization?
Tell her taking just anyone is not the way we do things here? So many
The reality is that in the wake of hurricanes Katrina
and Rita more people will see spontaneous volunteering as a viable option
and not just when there is a crisis. Although, there is nothing like pictures
from a hurricane or tsunami to bring out the best in human beings.
If the spontaneous volunteer is not going away and is
likely to increase in numbers, how can this be managed? First, let's step
back and take a look at why this phenomena exists. There are some social
scientists who believe that humans have been hardwired to varying degrees
of altruistic behavior. In fact there are tests for children as young
as 18 months that can demonstrate altruistic behavior. So the spontaneous
volunteer is potentially responding to a normal and natural instinct to
It is also true that most volunteer programs in organizations
are based on a hierarchal model, much like the military. It is a top-down
structure. The structure of nonprofit organizations is based on the experience
of its original founders, the corporate board. Government departments,
which were often organized similar to the military, are top down structures.
These structural models make it hard to accommodate those who "just
show up." There is a conflict between the "institution"
and "human nature." Here are some tips to begin the process
of developing a system to manage the spontaneous volunteer.
Never turn people away. Keep
a list of tasks or jobs that require no pre-training. The three F's:
filing, folding, following.
Filing - storing, sorting, filing paper
files or computer files.
Folding - in any program with "things"
brochures, clothing, packets, etc. there is folding and working
with them in some way.
Following - experienced volunteers can use
a hand with their chores. Select a volunteer who is a good delegator
and suggest ways the spontaneous volunteer might help them.
Put them to work immediately. Get rudimentary informationname.
Then get them to work doing something simple and near to the manager
of volunteers or a specially trained experienced volunteer.
Create a short "sign up" form, not the usual application.
After the volunteer has worked for a short period, ask them to stop,
come and complete the information form. Include:
How he/she learned about your organization
Emergency contact information
Demographic section that is optional
Train volunteers to supervise spontaneous volunteers.
Organize long term volunteers to supervise the spontaneous volunteer.
Teach them about supervision, motivation, and the like. Move them into
place when someone just shows up.
Say thank you. Find a simple and inexpensive way to say thank
you. A book mark with the logo, contact information, mission statement
or the organization is an appropriate way to say thank you to someone
you may never see again.
Create a committee. Organize an ad hoc committee to help organize
the response to spontaneous volunteers. This helps legitimize their
presence in the organization and gives experienced volunteers a say
in how to put them to the best use.
Volunteer teams plan events, raise money,
build houses, put on dinners, and serve on boards and committees. Here
are some tips to have the most effective teams in volunteerland.
Be flexible and accepting. No one is perfect and the members
of teams have strengths and weaknesses. Perfectionists make lousy
leaders, because he/she has trouble accepting less than perfect
in others. Being flexible and accepting that each person wants
to improve is the key to success in working with teams.
Have fun. Volunteers sign on to work, but only if fun is involved.
Have pizza parties, make "inside"jokes, give goofy inexpensive
items as rewards (a light bulb for person with best idea of the
week) or post baby pictures at a meeting.
Share leadership. Let everyone on the team be the meeting leader.
Do not allow a few to do the glamorous jobs, do the dirty work
yourself, and spread tasks around the team.
Encourage free speech. Do not shoot down crazy ideas, and do
not allow it from others. Encourage people to speak freely and
experiment with new ideas. This boosts confidence and encourages
the risk takers.
Never dwell on mistakes. No project is done perfectly. Keep
the group away from focusing on mistakes. Help them look forward.
Be personally credible. The manager of volunteers who is the
organizer of the team gains credibility by being "real."
Let people see your mistakes, do not hide behind your title or
responsibilities, be sincere, and invite input.
Never have a team without a plan. Teams work most effectively
when there is a plan. Work from the mission of the organization.
When a team is planning a large event and are mired in the details
of catering, seating, and entertainment, it is easy to forget
why they are devoting hours to such hard work. A plan helps everyone
focus and it begins with the mission and purpose of the parent
The Points of Light Foundation has forms available
to nominate volunteers and volunteer organizations for the Daily Points
of Light Award. It is designed recognize individuals and groups that demonstrate
unique and innovative approaches to community volunteering and citizen
action, with a strong emphasis on service focused on the goals for children
and young people set by the Presidents Summit for American's Future. The
award is given five days a week, excluding holidays. If you would like
nomination forms, call 202-729-8000.
By calling 1-800-VOLUNTEER in the U.S., individuals
can be connected to their local volunteer center. This is a national interactive
call routing system designed to get volunteers connected to people who
can help them volunteer.