In an organization or agency that effectively
engages volunteers, the core belief is that volunteers are an integral
part of all phases of the organization’s activities. Not
only does this bring credibility, accuracy, diversity, skills,
and community support, it also ensures that the design of tasks
is aligned with workforce interests. Common purpose and commitment
are a natural outcome.
Supervision is the over-seeing and monitoring of those individuals
involved in the process of accomplishing a task or project. Whether
the task or project is short-term or long-term, the basic components
are supervision, support, and delegation.
A manager of volunteers is both administrator
and supervisor. In
larger, departmentalized organization, the manager of volunteers
is the trainer of those who supervise the work of volunteers. Anyone
given authority to supervise volunteers needs training. It
is risky to assume that someone who supervises paid staff has the
capability to supervise unpaid staff. Someone with rent and
a car payment will tolerate poor supervision, while a volunteer might
So, exactly what is it that the manager of volunteers as supervisor
The person insures that:
1. Volunteers understand the task: they are given a clear picture
of duties and responsibilities, and limitations, know to whom and
for what they are accountable. They know who, what, where, when,
2. Volunteers are delegated authority to do the work: they are empowered
with real responsibility.
3. Volunteers are provided the tools to do the job: tools may be
identified as resources, training, facilities, and equipment.
4. Volunteers are monitored with check-ins: this is giving on-going
attention, encouragement, and support. Periodic phone calls or emails
can often accomplish all three. Yes, phone calls, especially with
volunteers over 65. Some are tech savvy, but still like phone
5. Volunteers are given feedback and evaluations: after task completion
a debrief of what happened helps determine if the volunteer was satisfied
with their experience, matched well with their interests and helps
identify new challenges.
6. Recognition: the frequent "thank you", pats on the back,
praise, and celebration.
Irving H. Buchen, a professor
at Capella University maintains that failure is not always bad. It
is a way of managing that is different from following rules of
success. He offers that
every business has “downs.” Buchen outlines five
blunders that are actually ways to gain insights into how we are
doing functioning now. By understanding the blunders future
mistakes can be reduced.
There is an assumption that “collapse” happens
Many managers of volunteers believe
there has been no warning of how the number of traditional
long term serving volunteers are getting harder and harder
Living in Washington State I am watching the horror of lives
lost in a catastrophic mudslide. Early television reports
talked about “suddenness,” no warning.” What
is coming to light are reports by geologists as early as the
late 1990s of the instability of the soil, recommending
against allowing homes in its path.
In volunteer programs we avoid gathering numbers in detail. “No
time. What do I do with the data? I don’t
know how to analyze it.” And so on.
It is just that data which shows decline…..very small
at first, but a steady decline until it is like the bridge
If you want to avoid “catastrophe” pay attention. There
are ”weak signals of future problems.” Numerical
data was showing the decline of the traditional volunteer and
the rise of the episodic as early as the late 1980s. Were
you watching the signals?
Have you said, “We can’t
plan two days in advance, let alone a year or two.” Do
you have an annual strategic plan for the volunteer program?
The fact is the “annual plan” is a way to prevent
the catastrophe. Planning is not prophecy, but rather “a
practical application of our understanding and experience of
real events, to probable outcomes.”
Mistakes small and large
Some of us remember the “new
Coke.” But for those of you who missed 1985 here
is a brief review. New Coke was the reformulation of Coca-Cola introduced
in 1985 by The
Coca-Cola Company to replace the original formula of
its flagship soft
drink, Coca-Cola (also called Coke). New Coke originally
had no separate name of its own, but was simply known as "the
new taste of Coca-Cola" until 1992 when it was renamed
The American public's reaction to the change was negative and
the new cola was
a major marketing failure. The subsequent reintroduction of Coke's
original formula, re-branded as "Coca-Cola Classic",
resulted in a significant gain in sales. This led to speculation
that the introduction of the New Coke formula was just a marketing
ploy; however the company has always claimed it was merely
an attempt to replace the original product. (thank you Wikipedia)
It is important to remember that failures are in different
sizes, but ignore the small ones to your own peril. That
small failure might just be a predictor of a big collapse.
As a long time trainer and consultant
in the world of volunteer programs, I wish I had a quarter
for every time I heard.
You don’t understand they are twice the size
That is a museum volunteer program how could what they
do possible apply to our animal shelter volunteer program?
We are apples and they are avocados.
Early in my career as an executive director at a tiny and
failing nonprofit, I BEGGED to be able to go to workshops
with my big city cousins, with programs twice the size. With
help from volunteers in my organization we took “big
city” programs and dialed them back to fit our small
Around me were small nonprofit who were recycling the same
tired ideas and making no progress forward and dare I say
slipping ever so slowly backward.
I am tempted to brag about our 9 award winning programs and
how some big city cousins were visiting us to find out what
we were doing. Size was irrelevant. What was important
was seeing commonalities.