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ASK CONNIE

VT readers ask questions about volunteer management and administration. Ask Connie, an experienced volunteer manager, consultant and trainer, provides the answers for all to see.
Send questions to AskConnieP@cs.com

~ April 2008 ~

Dear Connie:

I have often been asked: Why Volunteer? What is the purpose for volunteers? Why am I not being paid money to volunteer?  What are you supposed to get from volunteering?  I cannot answer these questions.  Can you please help me?  I am trying to get people to volunteer in my community.   Thank you for the help.

J

Dear J:

Volunteers are important to any organization because they:

  • demonstrate community support
  • are ambassadors for the organization to the community
  • bring new ideas and new energy to the staff
  • extend the resources of the organization
  • have contacts and expand the sphere of influence of the organization
  • increase the organization's diversity

These are just a few of the many reasons why it is important to engage volunteers.  There’s an excellent article titled "Why Volunteers?" on the Merrill Associates [LINK www.merrillassociates.net] website. Scroll through the articles in the left column and you’ll find it near the bottom.   


Dear Connie:

I would like to have some input about counseling a volunteer about their attitude while on duty as a volunteer.  I believe they want to leave the program and if this is their final decision I would like the termination to be as positive an experience as possible.  I've heard about establishing an emeritus status.  Thank you!

Barbara

Dear Barbara:

I have found that the best way to address this issue is to talk with the volunteer and ask some leading questions that will hopefully "tell you" what the problem is.  For example, you could ask, "What do you like best about volunteering here?" and "What do you like least?"  You could also ask, "Are you satisfied with your volunteer experience here?" and "If not, why?"  If you think the problems can be corrected, then you have the opportunity to create solutions with the volunteer's input.  If not, then you should be positioned to suggest that he/she leave the program.  You can even offer to help find another organization for which to volunteer, if this is appropriate.

As for emeritus status, it has been my experience that this status is reserved and best used for volunteers who can no longer volunteer (age, physical challenges, etc.), but want to stay connected to the program and the institution.  It isn't appropriate for "problem" volunteers.


Dear Connie,

I recently went to a volunteer director’s networking meeting where the topic was volunteer appreciation.  The presenters were from a large government organization with lots of money and resources.  They were giving their volunteers all kinds of wonderful things like books and jewelry and paintings for hours of service.  I left thinking, “Cool,” but we’re struggling to stay open and we don’t have the money to give away large things like that.  I want to find a nice way of saying thanks to all of our organization’s wonderful volunteers, but have a really small budget to do that with.  Aside from verbally thanking volunteers for their work, what do you suggest?

MM

Dear MM:

In my experience it's easy to provide appropriate recognition in inexpensive ways.  When I was actively managing volunteers, I was always on the lookout for inexpensive little items that I could tie to a theme.  For example, one year I gave volunteers a small packet of blank notes that I wrapped with ribbon.  My card to them said, "Thanks for being a noteworthy volunteer!"  Another year I gave them little table tops and said, "Thanks for being a top volunteer!"  Other easy and inexpensive ideas include:

  • Birthday cards to individuals
  • Birthday parties every month for individuals born that month
  • A volunteer of the year award based on an established point system or on nominations
  • An annual luncheon, dinner, and/or party to say thank you to all volunteers
  • Notices in the newsletter about special accomplishments by volunteers
  • Pictures on the office bulletin board of volunteers in action
  • Something fun during National Volunteer Week (April 27-May 5)
  • Tree seedlings or flower seed packets – “Thanks for helping us grow”
  • Paper clips or a glue stick – “Thanks for holding us together”
  • M & M candies – “Thanks for being Marvelous and Motivated volunteers”
  • Lifesaver candies – “You’re a “lifesaver” for our organization
  • Candy mints – “We care a ‘mint’ about you” or “Thanks for helping us raise a “mint”
  • Ruler or tape measure – “Your contributions are immeasurable”
  • Party whistles – “Let’s celebrate our success”
  • Package of batteries – “Thanks for energizing us”
  • Stick of chewing gum – “Thanks for sticking with us [or with this project]”
  • Flash light – “Your vision is our guiding light


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Do you have a question? Now you too can ask an expert!

Connie Pirtle, of Strategic NonProfit-Resources, has 15 years' experience in working with volunteers. She has consulted and/or trained for such organizations as the Washington National Cathedral, Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Music America, and the Association for Volunteer Administration.

Send your questions to Connie at AskConnieP@cs.com.
Connie Pirtle
Strategic Nonprofit Resources
10103 Edward Avenue * Bethesda, MD 20814 * VOICE: 301-530-8233 * FAX: 301-530-8299


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