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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.

~April 2012 ~



The Abilene Paradox is when a nonprofit program acts in contradiction to information they have for dealing with problems and this makes the problem worse. It happens, too when working with volunteers. To read more visit the Volunteer Today "Boards and Committees" page


Consensus is the most effective method of group decision-making, because it involves everyone and results in an agreement that everyone can at least live with. However, it is the most time consuming and requires skill on the part of the facilitator to ensure that everyone can support the result.

According to Johnson and Johnson in Joining Together, consensus is:

         more commonly defined as a collective opinion arrived at by a group of individuals working together under conditions that permit communications to be sufficiently open- and the group climate to be sufficiently supportive - for everyone in the group to feel that he or she has had a chance to influence the decision. When a decision is made by consensus, all members understand the decision and are prepared to support it. That means that all members can rephrase the decision to show that they understand it, that all members have had a chance to tell the group how they feel about the decision, and that those members who continue to disagree or have doubts will nevertheless say publicly that they are willing to give the decision a try for a period of time.

As a facilitator, the job is to develop conditions that allow open communication and test to see that the final decision is one that people can support in public, even if they privately disagree. It is helpful to start with ground-rules that will encourage that environment, such as the following.

  blue swirl Listen carefully to one another.

   blue swirlBe as concrete as possible and use “I” statements. Share your own underlying assumptions and ask for those from others.

 blue swirl Avoid blind arguments for your own “case”, but share information in an honest manner and listen to responses from team members.

 blue swirlConflict is OK as long as it is relevant to the issue at hand, deals with behaviors and not individual personalities, and is used to clarify.

  blue swirl Support the decision if you can do so honestly. Do not give in for the sake of time, or assume that you can later re-visit the decision.

   blue swirlLook for win-win solutions.

Questions to ask if it appears that participants have agreed:

blue swirlCan you support this decision publicly?
blue swirlCan you live with the decision made?
blue swirlIf yes, thank the group and adjourn or continue with the agenda.

blue swirlIf not:
blue swirlIf not, do you believe you have been heard and understood by everyone here? 
blue swirlIf not, would you like to state your opinion again?
blue swirlDo you believe you have heard and understood the opinions given by colleagues at the table?
blue swirlIf not, what would you like clarification on?

blue swirlNow,  can you support this decision in public?


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