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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.

~ February 2006 ~ Topics

Remove the Blocks
Brainstorming that is Effective
Advocacy and Volunteers

Remove the Blocks

"Managing is the art of getting things done through and with people in formally organized groups. It is the art of creating an environment in which people can perform as individuals and yet cooperate towards the attainment of group goals. It is the art of removing blocks to such performance." Harold Koontz

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

Brainstorming That is Effective

Volunteers are frequently involved in planning activities, programs, or events. Getting good ideas can sometimes be daunting. Here are some tips to get the most effective and useful ideas.

  • Brief in advance. Send out brief, bulleted information in advance of the meeting. Some people work in advance and will churn up good ideas before you even start talking about it.
  • Meet in the a.m. Never hold these types of meetings on "off" days for volunteers or staff...avoid Monday or Friday. Adults are fresher in the morning and less preoccupied with other responsibilities.
  • Keep the group small. 10 people are too many. Stay under 10 and you will keep energy and ideas at high levels.
  • Invite the janitor. Bring in staff and volunteers at all levels. The best ideas flow from people who see the big picture and those who mop the floor and run the copier. (A large cultural institution was about to sign an expensive contract with a consulting firm to determine which of their exhibits was the most popular with visitors. The day before the signing someone suggested that the administrator check with the janitor about where he did the most mopping or sweeping.)
  • No criticism. Set the standard early that NO idea is far-fetched. Do not let one member of the group censor another. Some ideas are more viable than others, but all ideas need to be gathered.

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Advocacy and Volunteers

Advocacy can make people cringe. It is advocates who started many of our more notable organizations. Camp Fire, Inc. was founded by people who thought young women in the early 1900's should be physically active and involved in sports; MADD was founded by an individual who wanted drunk drivers off highways! So what could an advocacy volunteer do for your program or organization?

Begin with a definition of advocacy.

Advocate. (noun) 1) to recommend, one who supports or defends a cause; 2) one who pleads on behalf of another.

This definition describes what some people do every day in small and large ways, that are not illegal or offensive. And all volunteer programs can use internal and external advocates. Here are some ideas to develop volunteers who advocate.

  • Talk about advocacy in orientation. What is appropriate? What is not?
  • Help people be well informed about the entire organization; budgets, staffing, clients served.
  • Remember that some of the best advocacy takes place over dinners, cocktails, or in church parking lots. The better informed all volunteers, the better the quality of all advocacies.
  • Identify clear ways for volunteers to advocate for the organization; with funders, elected officials, public agency staff, or other non-profit organizations.
  • Internal advocates might volunteer to service on a Board or Advisory Committee sub-committees.
  • Advocates attend public meetings about the organization or Board meetings. They are well informed.
  • Help advocates know what others are doing in the area of service in other parts of the country or world.


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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