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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.

~ June 2010 ~


The past two months have included information on active listening and on effective communication.  Those who manage volunteers are always told to provide constructive feedback.  Great idea, but how?  Here are some actual quotes to help you get started in communicating effectively.

1. Be specific "I don't think you heard Jack when he said. . . "
2. Be tentative    "It seems as if . . . "
3. Inform       "I haven't finished yet."
4. Describe your feelings     "It is hard for me to concentrate on my thoughts when I am interrupted."
5. Describe your perceptions         "It seemed to me that this idea didn't interest you."
6. Describe behavior "When I am interrupted, I would rather not continue sharing my ideas."
7. Speak to behavior that is correctable   "I am uncomfortable when you yell at me."

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1. Name calling     "You're a liar."
2. Ordering others to change      "You better stop yelling."
3. Accusations     "I think you take pleasure in intimidating people."
4. Generalizations     "You say that about everyone."

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The number of people willing to commit to long term service in an volunteer program is dwindling, despite the fact that most volunteer programs are awash in those who want to volunteer short term or episodically.  Those who are willing to commit to long term service can be groomed for the role of middle manager.  The volunteer administrator manages those who manage other volunteers. 

Sometimes you can recruit people with extensive supervisor experience and re-tool their skills to work with an unpaid work team (never take a person who has only managed paid staff and have them manage volunteers without some training—not fair to them and not fair to the volunteers).  These middle management volunteers can be trained to do tasks that are done by the paid staff, thus freeing the paid staff to do other tasks.

These volunteers need training on working with volunteers, but the most ideal training is to mentor them.  The wisdom of the manager of volunteers cannot be beat for conveying the most important concepts of working with an unpaid work team. 
How to Be a Good Mentor

Consider yourself a co-learner with the volunteer

Expect to gain as much from the volunteer as you provide to them

Consider the volunteer a colleague who can provide feedback on how to do things better

Listen more than talk

Maintain confidentiality with the person; it builds a trusting relationship

Try to avoid pushing or criticizing.  

When there are mistakes, communicate to identify solutions

Have clear expectations and write them down

Train with small amounts of information

Avoid information “dumps” or “over-load”

Be honest about the challenges that you faced when you started.  Talk about how you handled it, even if it was a failure

Talk through your thinking processes and analyze together

Set dates and times to meet

Encourage observation of you at work or in meetings

Share and demonstrate techniques and approaches

Find the volunteer’s strengths.  Work out from those skills.

Build in activities with likely successful outcomes early in the mentoring process.

Keep the focus on the plan and the expectations.

Give the volunteer a small size notebook and encourage them to use it for questions as they are encountered.

Tune in to the volunteers stress level. Try to reduce it.

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