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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

~2010 ~


Happy New Year to Volunteer Today Readers!

As we all begin a new year and a new decade, I offer you some of my favorite Top Ten Lists as food for thought.  I encourage you to consider how you can streamline your work and engage volunteers in even more meaningful work for your organization. 

My very best wishes for a productive 2010!



  1. Ensure that every volunteer has the training and coaching necessary to be successful – if volunteers are successful then you and your organization are successful!!
  1. Be organized – volunteers expect it.
  1. Most volunteers will do most any task if they know why – communicate, communicate, communicate.
  1. Tie all activities to the mission.
  1. Recognition is a process not an event.
  1. Never “use” volunteers – no one likes to be used so try words such as utilize, involve, or engage.
  1. Make it fun, even though it’s serious work.  No one volunteers to be miserable (more than once!).
  1. Train leadership volunteers to supervise and manage other volunteers.
  1. Empower volunteers to do their jobs.

10. Be clear about what needs to be done, how, and by when.

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  1. You will receive information first hand and not filtered through anyone.  This means that you can respond on the spot with information needed for decision-making.
  1. You are the voice of volunteers during critical discussions and decision making.  This means that you can identify activities or plans immediately that will impact volunteers and resources necessary for implementation.   
  1. Most likely, you manage the largest “staff” in your organization (dozens or hundreds of volunteers) that work in all parts of the organization.  So, in order to do your job most effectively and help achieve the organization’s goals, you need to be a direct part of the process that affects and utilizes your “staff.” 
  1. And then there is the financial impact of the volunteer program.  While the program isn’t generally a direct revenue center, it comprises a corps of loyal donors, potential contributors, contacts to significant contributors, and last, but not least, a cost saving resource for your organization.
  1. You are a multi-purpose resource for your organization because you have experience in:
    1. adult education (volunteer training)
    2. public speaking (presentations to the community)
    3. marketing (recruiting)
    4. financial management (you have to build and monitor several budgets)
    5. supervision (remember, you probably have the largest “staff”)
    6. special events (your annual recognition event or even a fundraiser)
    7. publishing (brochure, invitations, newsletter, etc.)
    8. communications (see all of the above!)

So, why not be in a management position to share your skills and expertise with your colleagues?

  1. You are a leader already!  As leaders, volunteer program administrators facilitate relationships and support systems that allow volunteers to make significant contributions to the organization's mission. 
  1. You are in the unique position of understanding all of your organization’s services, needs, and volunteer opportunities.  As a member of the management team, you can help avoid duplication of efforts and identify gaps in services or activities to meet your organization’s mission.
  1. The volunteer program gains rightful power and influence when you are part of the management team.
  1. You are a change agent because you are constantly reinventing yourself and the volunteer program to meet changing needs in today’s environment.
  1. Finally, the volunteer program is the organizational integrator.  Since volunteers serve in most every area and activity of an organization, it means they are an essential resource for the organization to achieve its mission. 

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  1. Set the tone – be positive and realistic.
  1. Begin with the facts – make a clear case for why the change is being made.
  1. Involve those staff and volunteers who are directly affected in the decision-making and/or change management process.
  1. Identify change agents among volunteers to help support the change.
  1. Create an advisory group, task force, or change steering committee to identify the resources (financial, human, skills, space, equipment, new policies, etc.) necessary to make the change and to help implement the change.
  1. Identify and share incentives for change – the benefits of the impending change.
  1. Collaborate – work with other staff and volunteers to make the change happen.
  1. Create a written action plan to implement the change. 
  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
  1.  Celebrate both the past and the future.

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  1. Application: Does it gather as much relevant information as possible in one page to enable you to make an informed decision about each potential volunteer?
  1. Confidentiality form and letter of agreement: Is the information contained understandable and free of human resources jargon?
  1. Database and mailing lists: Are addresses current and have inactive volunteers been removed and new volunteers added?
  1. Handbook: Is it easy to read and contains the most up-to-date information in a format that has eye-appeal?  Are the policies and procedures current?
  1. Mission Statement: If changes have occurred within your organization or volunteer program, are they reflected here? Does reading this document make a volunteer proud to be part of the volunteer program? Does it make you proud to be the director who wrote the statement?
  1. Newsletter: Has it become predictable, even boring, in its format and content? Maybe it’s time to redesign and give it "meatier" content or greater eye appeal.  Or maybe this is the year to “go green” and put your newsletter online!
  1. Personnel Files: Look at each folder and check for an up-to-date application (with references) for each volunteer.
  1. Position Descriptions: Duties change throughout the course of the year so review these for accuracy and completeness.
  1. Recognition: Are your forms of recognizing volunteers meaningful and cost effective? Get new catalogs for items you order - prices often rise after the first of the year.
  1. Training Materials: Do changes need to be made to reflect requirements of the position descriptions? Start developing training for new positions that will be added during the year.

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  1. Give up the need to be right
  1. First seek to understand, then to be understood
  1. Avoid acting defensively
  1. Listen for some truth in what they say
  1. Paraphrase the issue from their point of view and ask for clarification
  1. Use “I-statements”
  1. Ask for additional information if needed
  1. Be willing to explore all the options
  1. Look for workable, realistic options; recognize that compromise may be necessary
  1. Under-promise and over-deliver, but honor your agreements

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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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