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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.

~September 2009~


    Portland State University’s Volunteer Engagement and Leadership certificate program begins at the end of this month.  The first class in a series of six courses covers the organization of the recruitment effort. The course covers the impact of societal changes on volunteering, practical strategies for organizing recruiting include conducting needs assessments, strategic planning, and position descriptions. There is also information on the basics of marketing in the volunteer arena, advertising and promotions, screening and the utilization of volunteer recruiting teams.

    Class begins September 28 and ends November 20, 2009

    Class is fully online

    For registration assistance phone (503)725-4822 or Toll Free: (800) 547-8887 ask for ext. 4822

    Online contact: http://www.extended.pdx.edu/degrcomp/programs/v_engagement.php



“The Economic Value of Volunteers to Nonprofit Organizations” is the title of a research study on calculating the economic value of volunteers to nonprofit organizations.  The author examined three methods frequently used for “valuing” volunteers:  demand price, replacement cost(“measures the value of volunteers by the cost of substituting one hour of paid work for one hour of volunteer help for a comparable task”), and contribution to revenue (multiplying hours by a number determined to represent an amount representative of an acceptable wage rate).  The latter two methods are commonly used in the US and Canada.

Volunteers were studied in the US and Australia.  In Australia with an extensive case study and with surveys of managers of volunteers in the US.  This wide-ranging study raises questions about methods to “value volunteers.”  Here are some conclusions from the author.

  1. “Volunteers are not simply replacements for paid workers.”
  2. .Volunteers “can work together with paid staff to increase output quantity or quality.”
  3. “Volunteers can complement paid workers instead of substituting for them.”
  4. “No method of estimating the value of volunteered time yields a precise number.”
  5. Volunteer contribution to revenue appears to be a more robust measure of value
  6. Research from this study showed that. . .” replacement cost methods overvalue the value of volunteered time

From:  Bowman, Woods, “Economic Value of Volunteers to Nonprofit Organizations,” Nonprofit Management and Leadership, Summer 2009, Volume 19, No. 4, Wiley Periodicals, San Francisco, CA pp.491-506.

Published online Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com) DO1:10.1002/nml.233


Have you ever considered how social media might help you screen volunteers? Read all about it on the "TechTips" page.



         Word of mouth-WOM-is still the most effective means to “advertise” or promote a volunteer program.  Send a volunteer away with a wonderful experience and he/she will tell their friends.  Let someone have a bad experience and you send away a walking advertisement for why no one should volunteer in your program. 
         Connie Pirtle, of Volunteer Today’s “Ask Connie” column, spotted this item on the Web and suggested a posting might be of interest to readers.  The author tells an enlightening story of WOM at its worst and makes some suggestions.  The ideas have been adapted to apply to the engagement and management of volunteers.

Jaime Wallace, August 13, 2009

I recently witnessed a startling example of real-life word-of-mouth (WOM) in action while searching out a family-friendly breakfast spot in the posh, seaside town of Newport, RI. After wandering up and down the shop-lined streets for twenty minutes, my beau and our two girls decided on a bustling, second-story café. We found a spot on the already crowded stairway and were enjoying some idle chitchat with other vacationers when two middle-aged men emerged from the dining room and began to make their way down the stairs.

When someone asked them if it looked like a long wait inside, one of the men paused and said, "I wouldn't bother waiting." He then offered his unsolicited, ninety-second review of the restaurant. He wasn't vehement, but made it clear that the service had been slow, the food had been cold, and the staff - certainly overwhelmed - had been harried and abrupt.

In thirty seconds, the stairway cleared. On the advice of a complete stranger, eight parties who had been prepared to wait thirty minutes for a table instantly decided to take their business elsewhere.

If you think this is an isolated event, you'd better wake up. Every day, people make buying decisions based on the opinions and advice of complete strangers. Whether through social media or real-world interactions, we tend to be more vigorously persuaded by the insights of people we consider impartial. Whether spontaneous or sought out, the availability of "Real Person" input changes both the definition and importance of "customer service." Businesses are learning - sometimes the hard way - that EVERY INTERACTION MATTERS.

Whether you are having a dialog with a potential customer, servicing an existing one, or assuaging the pain of an unhappy one, each and every one of your interactions can have exponential impact on your business. Particularly in the very public realm of social media, businesses must strive for perfection.

Five ideas to enhance your WOM

1. You and your program are always on. Time spent with volunteers or potential volunteers should be considered "stage" time. It's your job to make each person's experience with your “brand” incredibly satisfying and memorable.

2. Every volunteer matters. Whether the person has been volunteering 10 hours a week for 10 years or is a one time volunteer for a special event. How he/she is treated matters. Each volunteer has the same ability to make noise - negative or positive - about your organization and its volunteer program.

3. Response time is critical. In the world of social media, news travels as fast as a 140-character tweet. In a perfect world, you'd be able to anticipate issues and intervene before they go viral. If you're unable to do that, the next best thing is to respond immediately. Don't give rumors or bad press time to spread.

4. Transparency should only go so far. "Transparency" is a word that gets tossed around a lot in social media circles. Though it's generally good practice, some circumstances call for a level of decorum not possible on the public stage. Try to transition crisis management conversations to a more private forum (like phone or email), and then - if appropriate - close the loop on the issue via the original venue.

5. Sometimes, your enemy is your best friend. Unhappy volunteers should have a special place in your heart. Though these people may be cranky pains in the you-know-what, you have the power - through attentive and authentic communication - to transform them into one of your most valuable assets: a convert. Find out what happened.  Offer an opportunity to serve again in a more suitable location.  If you can exceed the expectations of a dissatisfied volunteer, you will have a loyal customer for life, and one who will have reason to share a great story about your program.

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Delegation is the entrusting of an activity to another person.  Delegation means giving another the right to make our decisions for us.  Within this context we see the elements of risk that causes many people to shy away from delegation.  By treating the transaction as a “legal contract” the risks can be minimized.  A good “contract,” whether written or verbal contains six provisions.

Delegation Contract


Scope of Responsibility

  1. Be it episodic or long term volunteer be sure to outline duties in clear terms.
  2. Indicate how “far” the volunteer can go.
  3. Never be vague.  Be clear and specific.
  4. Put it in writing, even for the chair of a committee in charge of an event.

Specific Results Expected

  1. Write measurable results before engaging a volunteer for a task.  “When you have completed your service or shift, we should be able to see. . . .”
  2. Share the “results expected” with volunteer and others who work with the person

Time Schedule

  1. Be clear about expectations of service on the basis of time.
  2. Give minimum and maximum time required.  Include training sessions.  Example, “As a short time volunteer we require a minimum of two hours of service with 30 minutes of pre-training before you start your shift.”
  3. Set check-in deadlines and “drop-dead” deadlines.

Authority Needed to Carry Out Delegation

  1. Let others in the volunteer corps and paid staff know what type of authority the person has been given. 
  2. Outline with the volunteer what he/she is authorized to do and what requires check in with the manager of volunteers.
  3. Do not be vague.  Be specific.
  4. Indicate to the volunteer if you want lots of information, or just periodic “check-in” chats.  This will depend on the volunteer, the task, and the sensitivity of the same.

Agreement that both parties accept and will live up to their bargain

  1. Put agreements in writing. 
  2. For large projects create a committee chair description.  Do not use a generic form.  Write for the specific task.  Negotiate with volunteer the entire document.
  3. For small or short term projects use email to record your agreement on areas of responsibility for both volunteer and manager of volunteers.

Studies have shown that although most people know they should delegate, and that they even know how and to whom to delegate, they still continue to do the work themselves.  Look over the following list of common reasons why people don’t delegate and see if any pertain to you.

Ask Yourself
“Are you. . .




How I might improve

1.  a perfectionist?

2.  afraid of risk?

3.  lacking skills to instruct someone

4.  lacking in confidence in volunteer’s ability to do the job?

5.  competing with this person?

6.  keeping a task because it one of your favorites to do?

7.  reluctant to give orders?

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