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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.

~ January 2006 ~ Topics

Leading Volunteers

Are you a paid manager of volunteers or a volunteer who is in a leadership position with a group of unpaid workers? In either role you provide leadership for a program, event, board, committee, or cause. There is much written about the effective leader. Here is a list of characteristics that appear often on lists for effective leaders. Read about the characteristics and then use the checklist to assess your own qualities as a leader. Start 2006 off right with a plan to improve.

Qualities of Effective Leaders



1. I connect "task" to the bigger picture and talk about the future.
Stuffing envelopes for a symphony ticket sales or animal shelter fund raising campaign is a tiny task in a big project. The effective leader helps volunteers see how each of those envelopes stuffed impacts the entire organization, helps achieve the mission of the organization, and influences a healthy future for the organization. It is easy to forget the "big picture" when you are mired in the details. The leader helps the volunteers see how the part he/she plays impacts beyond the task at hand.



2. I encourage continuous improvement.
Leaders ask constantly how things can be improved. They rely on feedback from volunteers on how to do things differently and better. Praise goes to the volunteer who wades in with new ideas. Especially important is praise for ideas that cannot be implemented.



3. I provide a work environment where others feel their work has meaning.
Inspiration is a key component of reward for volunteers. Why are they doing this task? How is this simple task I am doing contribute to clients, members, patrons, or other volunteers? The leader inspires me to see beyond my job, which can see pretty routine on some days.



4. I operate ethically in all my dealings, inside and outside the organization.
Leaders are predictable. People are treated the same. There are no favorites. No different rules for different people. Trust in the volunteer-leader equation is important. It can be eroded if the leader says one thing and does another. Much is being written about psychological contracts and their impact on volunteer retention. Ethical behavior is often on the mind of the volunteer.



5. I care about the people I work with.
Leaders of volunteers care beyond the work. They know something about the person and his/her skills and aptitudes. Asking people to do certain jobs is based on what the leader knows about the person. It might be a chance for someone to stretch and develop new skills (with guidance), or a chance to do what he/she is really good at. The leader needs to talk with people and observe the person’s work to the point that they know how to engage them most effectively.

Directions: Read the statements below and rate your "leadership" qualities.

Qualities of Effective Leaders I DO THIS WELL I DO THIS A LITTLE NEED TO WORK ON THIS NO comment
1. I connect "task" to the bigger picture and talk about the future.
2. I encourage continuous improvement.
3. I provide a work environment where others feel their work has meaning.
4. I operate ethically in all my dealings, inside and outside the organization.
5. I care about the people I work with.

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

Evaluating Events or Projects

Evaluation following an event or project can be haphazard. The work is done, the money raised, or project completed. People are anxious to move on to new events or projects or just rest. Evaluation, however, is critical to future success. Skip it and you skip the chance to make more money, serve more people, solve more problems, or save more.

Evaluation begins by managers of volunteers preparing statistical reports. These should include anything that can be counted: money raised, people impacted, number of participants, clients served, individuals placed, etc. And it should be compared to previous years to see trends in such things as money and/or attendance.

Another task is getting people to attend an evaluation meeting. It can be a conference call, online chat, or face-to-face meeting. No matter the environment it needs focus. Often people arrive and just wander around talking about what they liked or what they didn't like. Here is a more intentional way to get feedback.

At the end of the event, or within a few days, see that key volunteers (those you would invited to an evaluation meeting) receive a list of questions that will be discussed at the meeting. Those who cannot attend can submit them, and the rest can just bring notes or thoughts. The questions provide a focus for a short and meaningful meeting. Volunteers leave feeling they actually accomplished something that will make for a better event or project the next time.

Here are some suggestions for questions.

1. What part of ____________________ did you find most enjoyable? List two or three things that stand out for you.
2. What responsibilities did you have that were the most satisfying and why?
3. What part of ___________________ did you find least enjoyable? List two or three things that stand out for you.
4. In an ideal world what would you like to see changed? What would it take for that to happen?
5. How can the organizers or leaders of this project help next year?

The questions are a bit different from those normally asked, but are likely to surface those issues people see as impacting success. And it personalizes the evaluation process, while getting at the underlying reasons for what makes an event or project work or not work.


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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