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This page is devoted to the management of volunteer programs in health care settings.

~January 2011~

Moving Toward Professional Respect


I often kid that the “Volunteer Services” department is last in the alphabet for a reason.  We get the last of the leftovers:  office space squeezed into small corners away from traffic patterns making the department difficult to find (making the first step of the screening process if someone can find us), little or no support staff, as well as a small (at best) budget for training and volunteer needs, not to mention salaries.  Sometimes I feel like Rodney Dangerfield when he used to say:  “I get no respect.”

But if you really think about it, I contend that those of us in this business continue to set ourselves up for this treatment.  After all, most hospital CEO’s openly admire and respect the work of volunteers.  They are thankful that there is dedicated personnel responsible for handling the intake process and administrative tasks associated with having unpaid staff on board.  But that is about all they really know about volunteer engagement.  And when you look at the average age of volunteers in the healthcare arena, is it surprising that they dismiss us as the nurturing folks who “take care of the volunteers” and keep them happy and engaged? 

Most of us also are expected to not only handle all the intake and screening process but also to supervise all the volunteers, making time in our day to do daily rounds and “visit” with all the volunteers, checking to make sure all their needs are being met.  In reality, the work that most of us do as an everyday part of our job is exactly the same types of duties that those in the human resources department do.  It’s just that we do it for the un-paid staff.  And when you think about the expectation to “visit” with volunteers, it becomes overwhelming. 

Building relationships with volunteers is a large part of retention:  it’s often what keeps them coming back.  That’s especially true if they are motivated by affiliation (or the socialization aspect of volunteering).  If you have volunteers working in various departments in your organizations, why should the expectation be set that it’s only you that can build the relationship?  The people the volunteers are supporting should be the people responsible for building the relationships.  After all, when was the last time your boss made daily rounds to check on you? 

The point really being made is we have to behave more like those in power.  If we want more respect, we have to demand it in our words and actions.  That means we need to quit whining about what we don’t have and begin to speak the same language of those in power.  Part of our responsibility also includes educating those around us whether that is those who enjoy the fruits of the volunteer engagement or those in senior management responsible for leading the organization.  Either way, we need to learn to translate the softer side of healthcare volunteer engagement into the same quantifiable data that speaks volumes to those in administration.  Only then will the volunteer services department begin to get the respect that is deserved!

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The author of the Heath Care Volunteer Programs column is Mary Kay Hood MS, Hendricks Regional Health, Danville, IN (317) 745-3556. With a BS degree in biology from Marian College and a Master of Science in Management from Indiana Wesleyan University, Mary Kay has been involved in volunteer management over twenty years with a zoo and in the health care field. During that time, she completed the Management of Volunteer Programs course offered at University of Indianapolis, several supervisory training programs as well as the Indiana Hospital and Health Association’s Management Institute offered by the Executive Education Program, School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. Mary Kay served on the Nonprofit Training Center of United Way from 1993 to 2006. During that time, she taught many workshops also facilitating speaker arrangements for the Basic Volunteer Management series. Additionally, she has presented at various national and international conferences. Mary Kay served as president of the Central Indiana Association for Volunteer Administration (CIAVA) from 1993-1997 and the Indiana Society of Directors of Volunteer Services (ISDVS) from 2006-2008. She was also the recipient of the 1995 Outstanding Director of Volunteer Services Award and the 2002 United Way of Central Indiana Volunteer of the Year Award. Most recently she served on the Steering Committee for COVAA resulting in the formation of a new national membership organization for those in volunteer management, the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (AL!VE). With several published articles, she is also author to two books: The One Minute Answer to Volunteer Management Questions and The Volunteer Leader as Change Agent.

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