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On this page are ideas to help you work more efficiently with volunteers. There are tips on recruiting, engaging, coordinating, and managing the work of volunteers.

~December 2009~


In many organizations there is a tribe of volunteers and a different tribe of paid staff.  Each tribe has its own culture and value system, this is according to Maureen West, author of an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, (Oct. 15, 2009, pg. 21).  West interviewed many people to address the issue of staff and volunteer conflict, which according to Susan Ellis, of Energize, Inc., is inevitable, but manageable.  Here are some points discussed in this excellent article of how organizations are tackling the problem.

From Volunteer San Diego

  1. Challenge the notions about what volunteers can and should do
  2. Ask employees about concerns and get ideas on how to bridge the gap between “tribes”
  3. Staff wanted people who behaved professionally and honored time commitments.  New policies for volunteers were instituted to address these issues

From California Library project

  1. 25 teams of librarians were trained to develop unpaid jobs for volunteers that go beyond the traditional ones
  2. For example, a retired advertising copywriter might help a library with marketing its services
  3. Lines of authority need to be clear
  4. All staff need training in how to work effectively with volunteers, not just the manager of volunteers
  5. Administrators need to assure volunteers and staff that things are changing and it likely won’t go smoothly.

From Lutheran Social Services

  1. Be sure that position descriptions are clear and unambiguous
  2. Spread supervision responsibility for volunteers throughout the staff, not just with one person
  3. Be willing to reassess and revise programs
  4. Be sure staff have realistic ideas about what volunteers can handle
  5. Respect that cross both ways—volunteer for staff and staff for volunteer

From the High Desert Museum in Oregon

  1. Communicate with staff and volunteers
  2. Include volunteers and staff in planning and working together
  3. Post volunteer positions on Web site, similar to those for paid staff
  4. Regular meetings and seminars for paid staff and volunteers
  5. Personnel policies for staff and for volunteers should have clear steps that outline how conflicts will be resolved
  6. Opportunities for staff and volunteers to socialize, i.e.. summer barbecu

For full text of the article: http://philanthropy.com/free/articles/v22/i01/01002101.htm



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Focus on What is Essential for an Effective Volunteer Program

Many managers of volunteers have had hours reduced, responsibilities added to their duties, or inherited this job in their organization when the manager of volunteers was laid off.  Too much to do and not enough hours in the work-week to do it?  Here are some tips to help you focus on what is important to bring success

Decide what is essential

  1. Banish the “do more with less” notion
  2. You need to decide what not to do in order to keep the program healthy [example-Volunteers receive greeting cards on their birthday.  Time and resource consuming.  Eliminate it.]
  3. Do things differently.  Ask someone to help you review how systems are done now and how to do more efficient.  [example—screening of volunteers can take 4 – 6 weeks.  How can you speed up?  Are there parts of the process you can eliminate?]
  4. Focus on what is working well.  Realize that some things will have to be set aside for the moment while the essential tasks are carried out.  [example—There is a volunteer job that everyone loves, but it is hard to find people to serve.  Too time consuming.  Keep it available on Web site as position, but stop actively recruiting, while you concentrate on easier positions to fill.]

Partner with others to save programs

  1. Collaborate with other community organizations.  [example- Organize an effort to have a volunteer create a Web site with all the possible jobs in the area of “food service to the poor.”  A one stop shopping for recruiting for the partners.]
  2. Share resources with other groups.  [example—Your organization has managed to keep a full time manager of volunteers.  Another organization has a small program that services your clientele.  It is about to be eliminated for lack of a volunteer coordinator.  Can you partner with the organization?  You get their current volunteers to do things in your organization, in addition to the commitment to the small program.  Think creatively.  Think subcontracting.]

Reach for the creative solution

  1. Do a job analysis for every volunteer position. [example—ask a reliable volunteer with leadership skills to convene a committee of “doers.”  Their charge is to look at every job currently done by volunteers and determine ways to streamline or provide the service in a different way.  [example—Volunteers are visiting with clients on a regular weekly basis.  Could teams of volunteers share that load?  5 volunteers who coordinate their own schedules for the visitations.]
  2. Do a cost-benefit analysis for every volunteer position.  [example—What does it cost to recruit each volunteer?  What does the volunteer provide in the way of tangible product to the organization and its mission in $$$ terms.  Then focus recruiting and management efforts on those volunteer jobs providing the most "bang for your buck." This is a good job for a volunteer committee with strong leadership.]

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