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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.

~ April 2006 ~ Topics

Disasters and Helping the Disabled
Dealing with Team Work Saboteurs
Coping With Your Supervisor

Disasters and Helping the Disabled

If your organization has experienced a disaster or been involved in disaster work, the Red Cross has an online booklet for helping those with disabilities prepare for a disaster. You can download the book for free at: http://www.redcross.org/services/disaster/beprepared/disability.html.

The book has chapters on creating a personal support network, completing a personal assessment, supplies, and preparing kits (and lots more). It is a no nonsense approach to helping the disabled get ready for the next earthquake, hurricane, or flood.

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

Dealing with Team Work Saboteurs

Managing a large event or project? Got a team of volunteers involved? Are there weak links in the team? Here are some suggestions to deal with specific types of volunteers who can hamper teamwork efforts.

Type of Saboteur Tips to Help Them Be a Productive Team Member

(Everything is a fight. Even the smallest detail.)

  • Set ground rules. Be specific about how long the group will debate an issue.
  • Ask questions that move the group along. "How is this getting us closer to resolving the original issue?"
  • Create an objection rating system. Get volunteer buy-in to a rating system for objections. Say, one for minimal objections to five for high. If you objection is less than two then don't raise the issue.

Quiet Person
(Person who hides in the background and is silent.)

  • Exert control over the chattier members of the group.
  • Allow time for thinking. Ask people to be quiet for 1 minute before responding. And time it for 1 minute.
  • Ask everyone to come with written comments and then everyone reads what he/she has written.
  • Ask for everyone's response on an issue. Start to the quiet person's left and go around the room so he/she is last to speak. Gives them time to collect thoughts.

(Alias: whiner.)

  • Try to determine hidden agendas. Do this away from group sessions.
  • Complaining about things that cannot be changed is a time waster. Steer people away from things they have little or no control over.
  • Put the person in charge. If a person complains about something, suggest that he/she clearly has an interest in it, so how about if, "you come with ideas to fix it."

(Turns everything, even most serious things, into jokes.)

  • Some humor is good in working with teams. It can be an energizer.
  • Barbed or sarcastic humor is rarely helpful in teamwork. If directed at another person, find out what is going on outside of the group.
  • Never tolerate inappropriate humor in the group. Nothing ethnic or sexual is allowed.
  • Comedians sometimes need challenges. Examine what tasks the person has and change if necessary.

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Coping With Your Supervisor

43% of workers say they do not feel valued by their employers, according to CareerBuilder.com. Is your supervisor melting down and making unrealistic demands? Here are some tips:

Find out what is going on.

Get the facts. Is this a boss who is micromanaging and controlling? Prove you are capable. Ask for complete control over a small project and then do it 110% right. Then ask for another larger project and do it 115% right. Over time the supervisor will see you can do it and give you the autonomy you deserve.

What if your boss is one of the laid-back, "Whatever" type of managers, or cannot make a decision. Guidance is the answer. No open-ended questions. Ask for specifics. Give the person choices and wait to get a good answer.

Maybe your boss is a non-manager? You know: the kind that's indecisive, hesitant, and vague. You need to guide this type of boss. Instead of giving open-ended questions, offer answer choices. Be specific with your requests.

Brag a bit.

Everyone wishes the supervisor or manager would notice and praise good work, but it often doesn't happen. In busy nonprofit organizations and volunteer programs there are never enough hours in the day to keep tabs on everything. This means you need to be sure the supervisor knows the quality of work you are doing.

Do you have an annual plan for the volunteer program? If not, you should. That plan is developed by you, discussed with your supervisors, and he/she signs off on the plan for the coming year.

Then meet with your supervisor on a quarterly basis and provide an up-date on the plan. Be sure to emphasize the good things going on where your leadership has made the difference. Don't neglect problems areas, but accentuate the positive.

Have regular meetings.

Insist on a regular schedule of meetings with the employer. 15 minutes once a week for a "check-in" is not too much to ask for. Try to arrange at a time when the person is in the office and not likely to be called away. Give the individual a file folder with your name on it and a pack of post-it notes. Do the same for yourself only with the supervisor's name. When you think of something during the week, restrain yourself from interrupting the person and put a note in the folder for the regular meeting. Ask the person to do the same for you.

This saves unwanted meetings and interruptions and makes those short meetings important. What if you stumble on a topic that takes more than 15 minutes? Set another time to discuss the really tough issues.

If you have an agreement for 15 minutes and every time you meet it is 45 minutes the supervisors is likely to cancel future meetings to protect the time he/she needs to get work done. Make that agreement in advance.

Use meetings to talk about your program, but be sure to ask what the supervisor wants. Get an idea of their needs, career or organizational goals and what you can do to support them.

Assume an attitude of learning.

Everyone in the world has a purpose, if only to serve as a bad example. And workers are foolish who ignore the opportunity to learn from their supervisor or manager.

Is the individual incredibly supportive? Figure out how he/she does it, not just for you, but also for everyone else in the organization. Is the person non-responsive to others? How do they do that? How do you respond to others? Is it too much, too little, and who is the judge?

It also might be the time to do some mirror gazing. Are you sure you are doing what is needed? What could you be doing differently? What you are experiencing will not last forever, so take advantage of what you can learn from it.

Is it time to leave?

There comes a time when you need take a hard look in the mirror, as well as at that supervisor in order to see if it is time to move on. If you are dealing with a serious issue such as harassment, bullying and the like, engage the managers in the organization in trying to solve the program. Human resource people could be your best friends.

If this is simply a mismatch of personalities, get a professional portfolio ready. You need examples of your work—flyers or brochures developed, Web pages designed, newsletters produced, applications, screening process, recognition events. Pictures of volunteers and events are nice too. Nothing will impress another employer like a record of your skills at managing volunteers.

Enlist your colleagues who manage volunteers to tell you about openings in your community. Talk to the leaders of organizations where you think you might like to work. It is all about networking. Consider a headhunting firm.

If this is a career development issue, and you feel you will not be punished for asking, enlist the help of your supervisor in making a plan to move to the next level in your career plans.


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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