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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.

~March 2013 ~




Recruiting Volunteers April 1 (8 weeks)

Recruitment of Volunteer (8 weeks) engages students in the study of a marketing approach to the recruitment of volunteers.  Interactive activities involve students in practical discussions of the different styles of volunteering—traditional and episodic; building a recruiting plan, advertising and promotion for volunteers, and the organization of a volunteer recruiting team. Assignments in all classes are interactive and designed to build skills directly applicable to a manager of volunteers program.  Assignments can be used immediately in existing volunteer programs. 

Training Volunteers April 1 (8 weeks)

Training Volunteers (8 weeks) engages students in organizing training sessions for volunteers. Topics include: how adults learn, learning styles, building content, measureable learning objectives, selecting the best teaching techniques, and evaluation of learning. Assignments in all classes are interactive and designed to build skills directly applicable to a manager of volunteers program.  Assignments can be used immediately in existing volunteer programs. 

Leadership and Communication with Volunteers April 1 (4 weeks)

Effective leadership begins and ends with successful communication. Managing volunteers requires knowledge of one’s own communication and leadership style and that of others!  

This module outlines the components of communication required to effectively lead and manage the work of volunteers:  personal communication style, feedback, leadership, and building effective relationships.

Supervision and Management of Volunteers April 29 (4 weeks)

The essential component of supervising and managing volunteers is understanding the broad spectrum of what motivates volunteers to serve and to stay. This class reviews four motivational theories and applies them in the volunteer setting. There is also opportunity to review conflict resolution strategies. Risk management is discussed in some depth.

For more information:



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Nancy Macduff

Mid January my email box received a note from a reader of Volunteer Today about a hospital in Florida that had a volunteer take photos of confidential patient files with social security numbers, subsequently selling the numbers to others who submitted fake IRS returns. This breach of hospital security spurred the hospital to review its standards for cell phone use by volunteers.

The hospital decided to ban cell phone use by volunteers in patient areas. Training was beefed up and more strict conditions of over sight were outlined for those supervising volunteers, including the administrator of volunteers.

Melissa Heinlein-Storti and Mary Kay Hood, long time columnists for Volunteer Today, work in hospitals—one governmental and one public sector. I asked them to read the article and help us all better understand the challenges of volunteers and smart phones. Then I reached out to those in the field of volunteerism for some shorter comments. Read on for this commentary.

Click here to read the original article

Opportunity For Change
Melissa Heinlein-Storti

When I first read about “Jackson Health bans cell phones for volunteers after data breach - FierceHealthcare”I immediately sent out a blast e-mail to my colleagues. Did you see this article? What was your reaction? Do you even care? What does this say about volunteers? Why do volunteers, and we as professional administrators of volunteers, get a bad rap?

In this news story, a volunteer (who did not have computer access in his volunteer assignment) took photos of confidential patient information and sold the information. We could beat ourselves up asking “what went wrong with this individual?” “What was this person thinking?” “How could he do this?” “What kind of orientation did he have?” “Who was his department supervisor?”

Why are others always too quick to point the finger at the Director of Volunteers? Do we point the finger at an employee’s supervisor if they do something wrong?

We know that we cannot teach common sense. But with all of the volunteers we have in so many diverse assignments, we do the best we can with a thorough orientation, background check, volunteer agreement, assignment guide, annual training, and much more. Is cell phone usage part of a volunteer’s training?

Cell phones as lifelines
Cell phones are our lifelines. I get that in today’s society. But is there truly a need for a volunteer to carry around their cell phone texting and posting on Facebook during their volunteer shift? If a volunteer is on their cell phone, he/she is missing opportunities to help someone in need within their organization. And customer service goes out the window.

Volunteers and assignments with sensitive information
After I calmed myself down and read the article a few more times, I then looked up other articles linked to the original news. A question was raised in one story about assigning volunteers to highly sensitive and confidential departments. In this story, it was the emergency room of a hospital.

But should we discontinue assigning volunteers to departments where there is a need if sensitive and confidential information is present? I say no. Doing so could eliminate many assignments, volunteers, and the opportunity to provide a need for others. Whether volunteers are serving in a hospital, mental health clinic, homeless shelter, museum, or zoo, confidential information is surrounding them. From donor information to client information, how is information protected? It is also the organization’s responsibility to strengthen policy and procedure into practice and keep volunteers informed. Not just employees.

While this was an unfortunate situation in a hospital, it could be an unfortunate situation in any nonprofit organization. Stories such as Jackson Health banning cell phones for volunteers should not cause panic. It should, however, create opportunities for improvements in your volunteer department. But we should be doing this anyway, regardless of a news story.


“You Can’t Fix Stupid”
Mary Kay Hood

As any good director of volunteer efforts, imagine my surprise when you see the headline “Jackson Health bans cell phones for volunteers after data breach - FierceHealthcare.” I can tell you I experienced that momentary panic that anyone in a position of leading volunteers would feel. After I caught my breath, my first thought was why pick on volunteers? Anyone with criminal intent, volunteer or employee, could commit this data breach. Unfortunately for our profession, it just happened to be a volunteer.

But upon closer look, there are the two things that resonate with me the most.

? Does the organization routinely run limited criminal history checks? It is very possible that even if they did, there might not be anything there to red flag the volunteer as a potential risk. Nonetheless, the organization can illustrate that they did “due diligence” in trying to reduce the risk.
? Does the organization have a policy for cell phone use? In today’s electronically connected world, cell phones are everywhere. That being said, volunteers at my organization are told that cell phones are not to be used while they are on duty with us. Does that mean that I don’t occasionally see cell phone out? No, but if I catch someone using their phone, they are reminded that they are not following through on agreed upon expectations.

Will those of us in this profession have to change the way business is conducted. Probably in some form or another. It is quite possible that the person who committed this crime set out to commit the crime and maneuvered his way into the organization to commit the crime. And there is probably nothing that could have been done differently to result in a different outcome. It is also quite possible that the person was in a vulnerable state and the money spoke louder than their conscience. Either way, you can’t fix stupid. Too bad stupid behavior overshadows the good that volunteers do each and every day.


Comments From Leaders in Volunteer Administration

On the issue of banning cell phone use by volunteers in areas where there are patients or clients—it seems to me to be a wise decision. I am aware of at least one situation where are volunteer posted a picture of a patient on Facebook in clear violation of privacy. Cell phones can actually be useful in some situations: For example, I’ve had volunteers use their phones to take pictures of flip chart pages as a way of collecting information in training sessions. But we wouldn’t want a volunteer to have a camera in a setting where patients or clients are present, and a cell phone is a camera.

Nancy Gaston,
Gifts Differing

It isn’t often, but unfortunately volunteers do come with ulterior motives or skills and expertise that can land them in trouble. A few years ago we had highly technical volunteers working on projects in our Engineering Department. We realized they knew how to get the answers by going through a backdoor of files that were not intended for them. They were not being malicious, rather they were looking for answers to questions supervisors had asked them. Our Engineering volunteer administrator noticed it was easy for them to search out information on drives they shouldn’t have been on and called me right away.

I worked with our IT department, and our Engineering administrator to create a Technology Service Form and a unique log-on system. During the volunteer orientation process the required form would be discussed and ethical standards were set before a volunteer was approved. The log-on system gave each volunteer a specific username and password, this profile was only given access to our network on a schedule input by the administrator. The profile also could only view drives/folders that were predetermined by the administrator. These measures gave the department reassurance that volunteers were being placed in appropriate areas while on the City network.

Robin Popik
Volunteer Resources Supervisor

the offender should have been dismissed (after following an investigation and due process, of course). As a precaution, I would also suggest that a protocol be developed that is included in the organization's standards of behavior and volunteer expectations. Additionally, the new protocol should be included in orientation (for both paid and volunteer staff) and this information should also be covered with current staff.

I am not in favor of banning cell phone usage, simply because the offender used a cell phone to photograph the sensitive records. Did the organization also ban i-Pads and cameras? Simply removing the electronic device will not solve the problem. The cell phone was not the problem; it was the person.

To put this into a different perspective, if a friend died from accidental drowning, would you prohibit people from swimming, bathing, or utilizing water? Probably not. What you would do is to reduce the risk factors and strengthen the protective factors. The decision to prohibit the use of cell phones in patient areas is not novel, nor will it solve the problem.
To put this into an everyday and even more controversial perspective, it goes back to the sensitive issue of gun control. Will banning the use of guns really prevent criminal acts from being perpetrated on the public?

Ken Culp III, Ph.D
Principal Specialist for Volunteerism


The person who did this could just as easily have been a paid member of staff. The point is that volunteers are human beings. Some human beings are trustworthy, some aren't.

It seems that this is a vetting and risk management issue. The statement in the article about volunteers being screened as carefully as staff seems the proper way to go. They should also abide by the cell phone restrictions that paid staff work under.

Rick Lynch


cell phone

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One challenge of managing volunteers is the friction that can occur between volunteers and paid staff.  Unwillingness to work with volunteers.  Comments that undermine the value of volunteer engagement.  Efforts to thwart serious efforts by volunteers.  Volunteers leaving due to mistreatment by paid staff. 

face with frictionMaureen West, in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, tackled this issue and outlines the reasons why the friction happens and what you can do about it in an article, “Volunteers Can Cause Friction With Employees.”  She ends the article with suggestions for practice.

  • Openly discuss with staff members the impact volunteers have on helping to carry out the group's mission, and calm fears that volunteers might replace paid workers.
  • Involve staff members in planning volunteers' roles.
  • Adapt the charity's strategic plan to clearly define the role of volunteers.
  • Make sure the manager of the volunteers is someone who serves at the upper levels of the organization, and can inspire staff members' respect and loyalty.
  • Craft specific job descriptions for volunteers and include performance expectations.
  • Include the volunteer manager in any major decisions the charity makes.
  • Communicate frequently. Don't rely on water-cooler chat to keep staff members and volunteers informed

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