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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.

~ October 2010 ~



NOTE: The following is an editorial on "reducing" the volunteer involvement in organizations experiencing employee shrinkage.

In a recent training workshop in Hawaii I was told by a participant her organization had reduced hours for all staff, froze hiring, and laid off several staff.  There was a freeze on purchase of resources—paper, pencils and the like.  Her job as manager of volunteers was reduced to 50% and she had been assigned other unrelated duties.  She told me that the things I was saying in a workshop about effective volunteer management were true and she knew it, but for her the challenge was to find more volunteers (an expectation of her administration).  She wanted to know how she could efficiently run the volunteer program, find more volunteers, and be organized with such reduced resources—human and financial.  She was expected to find more volunteers who could do the work of paid staff who were gone or working fewer hours.  She knew that the trainer (me) was offering practical suggestions, but there were not enough hours in the day to do more than she was already doing.

Sadly, I snapped!  (And later apologized to this talented woman!) I share my views on why I thought it was time to downsize the volunteer program.

First, if the organization is downsizing, why is there an assumption by the manager of volunteers, and frequently the administration, that engaging and managing more volunteers is a solution.  The overriding concern for the clientele, member, or patron served is the goal of everyone, to be sure.  It sometimes leads people to set unrealistic expectation.  Downsizing impacts everyone in the organization---including volunteers and the services provided.  Yes, there is an impact for EVERYONE.  It is similar to those who lobby for reduced taxes, but don’t close a local driver’s licensing office, or reduce services to fragile seniors, or special needs kids.  Taxes reduced mean fewer services.  Downsizing means fewer services.

Second, replacing paid staff with volunteers is called supplanting.  It is illegal in most places.  Volunteers work best when they supplement the work of paid staff, adding to the effectiveness of service delivery.  How can the paid manager of volunteers who has had her hours reduced organize volunteer recruitment and retention to bring in more people.  The effort to run out and find more people, get them trained, or place them with paid staff who have less time to supervise be effectively organized. Not to mention that if the volunteers are replacing paid staff they will be working in a potentially hostile environment.  It is like to be a confused and not well-organized effort.

A complaint of boomer volunteers (See study on opinions of volunteers about their experiences.) is the lack of an organized plan to engage and supervise the work of volunteers.  It is given as one reason to not volunteer at all or leave abruptly.  If an agency or nonprofit downsizes it impacts the organizational capabilities of human resource management so essential to the healthy volunteer program. 

Volunteers are not free!  Volunteers should not replace paid staff.  Effective engagement and management of volunteers takes human, financial, and physical resources.  When those are in short supply, then it is likely the ability to recruit and retain volunteers is impacted, the same as it is for paid staff. 

Managers of volunteers are used to doing things with few resources. (It never ceases to amaze me how many volunteer programs have no money for recognition.).  So, when resources are short the manager of volunteers whips into action. 

Stop and think!  Is that prudent for the long-term health of the volunteer program?  Will a haphazard effort at recruiting be successful?  How skilled are the remaining paid staff at being organized enough to effectively supervise volunteer efforts.  Is it time to say to administrators, “Volunteers are not free.”  Is it time to suggest that if there is downsizing among the paid staff it will occur with the unpaid workforce, too.  My grandmother use to say, “You can’t get blood from a turnip.”  The same is true of volunteers, too.

Responses to this editorial are warmly welcomed at mba@bmi.net

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      Do you manage volunteers in Indianapolis or a surrounding area?  A one day conference is being held on four areas of volunteer administration; infrastructure, social media, building internal support, and strategic planning.  There is an informal session following the workshop with an open question and answer period with the speaker for the day, Nancy Macduff.

Friday, October 15, 2010 8:15 am to 4 pm

Damar Services 6067 Decatur Boulevard Indianapolis, IN 46241

For more information, please contact: Donna Stutler, Conference Chairperson 317-856-5201 donnas@damar.org

Cost is $110

Interested in learning how to effectively recruit volunteers? Check the Event page for local conferences and workshops. Sign up for online training course that leads to professional certification.


It is no secret that planning is a sure fire way to improve the volunteer program.  Gather a group of organized volunteers and map out some goals and action plans for the coming year.  Yep, and add that to 2000 other things to do for the day. 

Some research says for every 15 minutes spent in planning, an hour is saved.  That would significantly reduce those other 2000 things to do. 

The question is how to do it with ease!  An action planning form can make it easier and provide accountability.  Get a volunteer team to participate and agree to take responsibility for what they plan to accomplish.  This is a working committee with some real responsibility.  That means the manager of volunteers engages in delegating assignments and giving volunteers real accountability.  Folks are asking for just this and real jobs are incentives to stay.

Sample Action Plan

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The baby boom generation is increasingly entering the world of volunteering as a post employment venture. What do you know about this large demographic? What is fact and What is fiction? Review these facts on the demographics and psychographics of the largest age cohort.

What Do You Know About the Baby Boom Generation?

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