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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.

~ February 2011 ~

Making Decisions as a Leader

Every day managers and supervisors have decisions that need to be made. There are different strategies to accomplish this. Here are some styles of leadership styles that can assist you in the decision making process. Which one(s) do you use?

dot Army Sergeant

  • Decisions are made without input
  • Leader has control
  • Immediate action can be commanded
  • Effect on Group:
    • May not take ownership
    • They may sabotage efforts
    • May be resentful for not being asked
  • TIP:
    • Works well in a crisis mode
    • Explain rationale behind approach
    • Useful in large events to deploy short term volunteers
    • Can be nice as you give instructions

dot Teacher's Pet

  • Asks specific individuals for input
  • Ultimately the person decides for group
  • Effect on Group:
    • Some may feel excluded
  • TIP:
    • Explain rationale behind decision
    • Make sure the ones who weren't included in decision have a role
    • Make sure it is an expert who is respected by the group

dot Politician

  • Group input
  • Group identification
  • Decisions are well thought out
  • Effect on Group:
    • Takes time
    • Conflict has potential to become heated
  • TIP:
    • There needs to be a process that others adhere to with specific timelines
    • Hear both sides of an issue
    • Keep things civil

dot Head of Household

  • All members have a voice
  • Willing to support team effort
  • Effect on Group:
    • Takes time
    • Facilitator needs skills to reach agreement
  • TIP:
    • Make every member feel valued
    • Encourage each individual to voice their opinion and then to reach a consensus

dot Chairperson

  • Delegates decision making to others
  • Develops leadership in others
  • Effect on Group:
    • May not be done how you think it should
    • Group may need additional training and guidance
  • TIP:
    • Clarify expectations
    • Hold individuals accountable
    • Be available to encourage, answer questions
    • Check in regularly

Questions to ask when evaluating which role will be most effective:

    1. Who is involved?
    2. How important is their influence?
    3. What is more important the task or the people?
    4. How will they be affected by outcome?
    5. What is the best strategy?
Sometimes you make the right decision; sometimes you make the decision right. ~ Dr. Phil


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Interested in quick tips on recruiting, coaching, communication, record keeping for your volunteer program.  Follow Volunteer Today publisher and editor,Nancy Macduff on Twitter She is posting quick ideas each workday on Twitter about the administration of volunteers.  Check out this new quick resource on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ NLMacduff.  It is the VERY abbreviated form of Volunteer Today. You not need to be a Twitter subscriber to view these posts!

Nancy is seeking tips, hints, ideas, comments on things related to the management and administration of volunteers.  You can leave a Tweet on the Twitter site or email Nancy at mba@bmi.net.  The tip cannot be longer than 140 spaces or characters.


REMEMBER: Followers on Twitter can set their profile on privacy to avoid getting unwanted Tweets.  Also, you must pick up Tweets, they do not pop up like your email.  Make it a bookmark on your computer.  Yes, you can Twitter from your computer,  you do not need a smart phone!

If you have not used this social media form of communication and would like to learn how to use it for future communication with volunteers, this is a good way to practice.  Tell the people in your organization and your colleagues in the community about this new site, exclusively for those who coordinate the work of volunteers.

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The Interview-It's Not Standard Anymore

interviewThere are traditional volunteers, episodic volunteers, advocacy volunteers, and a lady just walked in the door and said she was in town for a month and how could she help. Each style of volunteering has different screening standards. For some volunteers it is a serious exchange to determine if the individual is equipped to do sensitive work. In other cases it is to determine what skills the person possesses and how to place them. Sometimes it is the volunteer interviewing the manager of volunteers to see if there is a fit. And sometimes it is not.

Organizing the interview process was never easy when there were only traditional volunteers to talk to, and it has only grown more complicated. Here are some suggestions related to interviewing to create the best fit for volunteer, task, and organization.

  • Is the service being rendered something that requires an interview? The episodic volunteer who shows up to keep ice in the bucket with water bottles for a two hour shift at a 10 K run probably does not need to be interviewed. The person who wants to work with hospice patients definitely does need to be interviewed.
  • What is the purpose of the interview? Serendipity volunteers (drop-ins) often arrive with an idea of what might be of interest. So the interview is two-fold. The potential volunteer is checking out how flexible the organization is in making a "place" for him/her. That potential hospice volunteer is working with the most vulnerable population and the organization needs a rigorous screening, that includes more than one interview. Clarity about the purpose of the interview at the beginning is essential.
  • Who conducts the interview? Historically, the manager of volunteers interviewed most people who expressed an interest in volunteering. In large volume programs that is likely time consuming and can be done by specially trained volunteers. The interview needs to be standardized, so it is the same for everyone, and the interviewers need training in such things as active listening, follow-up questioning, and "red flag" issues.
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Types of Interviews:

  1. Informal, conversational interview - no predetermined questions are asked, in order to remain as open and adaptable as possible to the interviewee's nature and priorities; during the interview, the interviewer "goes with the flow." This is most applicable for the person who shows up wanting to "do their own thing." The purpose of this interview is to get acquainted with the individual and what he/she might bring to the program or organization.
  2. Standardized interview - this is the interview for the traditional volunteer who is providing long-term service, especially when a vulnerable population is involved or money. There are some fact-based questions and open-ended questions. The questions are asked of all interviewees. This approach facilitates faster interviews that can be analyzed and compared. It also allows volunteers to be trained as interviewers.
  3. Fixed-response interview - All interviewees are asked the same questions and asked to choose answers from among the same set of alternatives. This might be a way to compare applicants for a position. It is not often used in volunteer interviews.

Types of Questions:

  1. Behaviors - about what a person has done or is doing. "Tell me about the last volunteer position you had."
  2. Opinions/values - about what a person thinks about a topic "Tell me the pros and cons of a hospice patient who chooses to forgo medicine that could prolong their life."
  3. Feelings - note that respondents sometimes respond with "I think ..." so be careful to note that you're looking for feelings
  4. Knowledge - to get facts about a topic. "Tell me what you know about our program or organization and its services."
  5. Sensory - about what people have seen, touched, heard, tasted or smelled. People working in recreational or outdoor programs might ask a volunteer sensory questions in order to determine if they have a realistic view of the work to be done. "When is the last time you did outdoor hard labor work? How did you feel that evening or the next day?"
  6. Background/demographics - standard background questions, such as age, education, etc. Make sure these questions are related to requirements for the position or the work to be done.
  7. Open-ended question - is where respondents are free to choose how to answer the question, i.e., they don't select "yes" or "no" or provide a numeric rating, etc.); "Tell me why you want to do this particular volunteer job."

Question Order:

  1. Get the interviewee involved in the interview as soon as possible. The purpose of the conversation is for the individual to talk and the interviewer to be quiet and listen.
  2. Alternate types of questions during the interview. Start with easy fact-based questions that provide short answers. Then ask a more open-ended question.
  3. Do not ask questions that require a great deal of background on the part of the interviewer. You can bore or tire out the interviewee.
  4. Ask questions about the present before questions about the past or future. For most people it is easier to remember the present. Work your way into the past or future.
  5. The last questions might be to allow respondents to provide any other information they like and to add their impressions of the interview.

Wording of Questions:blocks

  1. Wording should be open-ended. Respondents should be able to choose their own terms when answering questions.
  2. Questions should be as neutral as possible. Avoid wording that might influence answers, e.g., evocative, judgmental wording.
  3. Ask one question at a time.
  4. Clear question wording. This includes knowing any terms particular to the program or the respondents' culture. Try your questions out on someone unfamiliar with your organizations and its special language.

The Interview:

  1. Location. Depending on the type of interview the location is important. For an in depth interview of a person seeking a long-term placement, a quiet spot with few interruptions is important. The short, "get acquainted" interview might be done in a more public place, but one with no interruptions.
  2. Purpose. Take the time to write down the purpose for those in depth interviews. It will help you stay focused when the interview occurs. Shorter interviews need focus, too. Think of the various types of short interviews you have had in the last year. Next to each type of volunteering style write a purpose statement for the interview you conducted.
  3. Discuss with the person the purpose. Outline the purpose of the interview. Explain the process of screening to the potential volunteer if it is a multiple step process. If the person is seeking something special, ask them the purpose from their point of view and share your purpose in talking with them.
  4. Address terms of confidentiality. Be sure to tell the volunteer that interviews are confidential, under most circumstances. If a background check is required then explain the process in details and be prepared to answer any questions the person might have
  5. Explain the format of the interview. Explain the type of interview you are conducting and its nature. Encourage them to ask questions of you at any time..
  6. Indicate how long the interview usually takes.
  7. Explain the process following the interview. Tell the person "what comes next." Screening, training, shadowing another volunteer, etc.
  8. Ask them if they have any questions before you both get started with the interview.
  9. Don't count on your memory to recall their answers. Ask for permission to record the interview or to take notes.

Conducting Interview:

  1. Attempt to remain as neutral as possible. That is, don't show strong emotional reactions to their responses.
  2. Encourage responses with occasional nods of the head, "uh huh's," etc.
  3. Be careful about the appearance when note taking. That is, if you jump to take a note, it may appear as if you're surprised or very pleased about an answer, which may influence answers to future questions.
  4. Provide transition between major topics, e.g., "we've been talking about (some topic) and now I'd like to move on to (another topic)."
  5. Don't lose control of the interview. This can occur when respondents stray to another topic, take so long to answer a question that time begins to run out. This can be challenging with a person passionate about the cause or the program.

Immediately After Interview:

  1. Make any notes on your written notes, e.g., to clarify any scratchings, ensure pages are numbered, fill out any notes that don't make senses, etc.
  2. Write down any observations made during the interview. For example, where did the interview occur and when, was the respondent particularly nervous at any time? Were there any surprises during the interview?
  3. Begin the next steps. If there are additional screening elements, get them in motion. People who express an interest in volunteering do not want to be kept waiting.

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