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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.

~ September 2005 ~ Topics

Change Management

Every organization experiences change. And volunteers are usually the last to know about changes, big and small. Building loyalty and morale in the volunteer corps requires communication on important things like change. Here are some tips on managing change that reduces stress for volunteers and keeps morale and loyalty high.

  Tell volunteers about chance as soon as you can. Sitting on information to protect the volunteers is not wise. Even if the information is bad, let people know immediately. This needs to be orchestrated to coincide with information to paid staff.
  Be truthful. Do not hold back information in the hopes "something will change." People appreciate news, even the bad stuff. It provides an opportunity to prepare for the inevitable. Also, some studies show that people are resentful when they only get half the story to discover later there was more information about the change they should have been told.
  Provide information on the future. Most change comes with a plan for the future. Where is the organization headed? How will it impact volunteer involvement? What can the volunteers do to help? Tell people that many ideas are under discussion, but there are some givens they can count on.
  Keep information simple. Complexity is a normal part of most change. Informing volunteers requires clarity of communication. Be as straightforward as possible.
  Gather feedback. Volunteers need to have input in the change, especially as it impacts their work. In nonprofit organizations the board of directors (volunteers) is usually involved in orchestrating the change. Direct service volunteers are sometimes left out of the process to influence the change. Engaging those direct service volunteers is a key to keeping morale and loyalty high.

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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Blogs as a Management Tool

Web logs, best known as Blogs, are no longer new. You likely know half a dozen people with blogs and maybe even have your own. If the term is new to you, a blog is like an online diary, but one where people can comment on your thoughts. Some blogs are highly personal, some political, some product oriented, and others actually help people work more efficiently. Here are some ideas for using a blog site with volunteers.

  • Those interested in blogs could create a blog to provide information on the work of the organization or program. For example, a domestic violence shelter could have a blog with information for volunteers on how to help children when there is domestic violence in a home. The blog team could "mine" the Internet for information and sites specific to that need.
  • Blogs can be used to discuss problems and find solutions. This needs to be discussed thoroughly as blogs are quite public and anyone can read or comment. Some organizations have internal blogs to control access to comments.
  • Another organization uses a blog to store information on technology (but it could be any topic). The blog is organized so information is provided on technology. It stays on the blog, with clearly identified topics and that makes everything more retrievable.

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Customer Service and Volunteer Managements

Customer service books and workshops teach the skills to handle people. Information used in the for profit sector applies when dealing with volunteers, too.

The outline of steps is also a good checklist for dealing with volunteers.

1. Listen actively. Shut down the buzz in your own head and concentrate fully on the person doing the talking. If someone is complaining, it could reflect how others feel but are unable to articulate. Listening can lead to solutions and quick resolution of problems.

2. Instant Replay. Rephrase what the person has said to be sure you understand. No judgments at this point, just a check to make sure you are understanding what the person is saying.

3. Empathize. Empathy is not the same as sympathy. You may not have experienced what this person has and cannot sympathize, but empathy is letting someone know that you understand how difficult this is and you appreciate the trouble they are having. It is not agreeing or disagreeing it is acknowledging discomfort or unhappiness.

4. Look for options. Go over your understanding of the situation or problem. Then ask the person to review with you the options available to address the situation. Discuss how the option will be carried out.

5. Say thanks. Offer a thank you to the volunteer for bringing the information to your attention and giving you the opportunity to help solve the problem or address the situation.

6. Check back. Be sure to follow-up and find out if the solution worked. Did you do what you promised? Did the volunteer do as requested? And how are things now? Then start the steps all over again.


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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