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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.

~October 2014 ~


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I teach a class on supervision and management of volunteers at Portland State University.  Some conversations during class address the issue of volunteer/paid staff relations. This is a continuing issue for managers of volunteers.  It doesn’t take much to impact the fragile relationship between volunteers and paid staff. This article graced the pages of Volunteer Today in 2009. The information and suggestions are as accurate in 2014 as in 2009.


In many non profit organizations there is a tribe of volunteers and a different tribe of paid staff.  Each tribe has its own culture and value system, this is according to Maureen West, author of an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, (Oct. 15, 2009, pg. 21).  West interviewed many people to address the issue of staff and volunteer conflict, which according to Susan Ellis, of Energize, Inc., is inevitable, but manageable.  Here are some points discussed in this excellent article of how organizations are tackling the problem.

From Volunteer San Diego

    1. Challenge the notions about what volunteers can and should do
    2. Ask employees about concerns and get ideas on how to bridge the gap between “tribes”
    3. Staff want people who behave professionally and honor time commitments.  New policies can address these issues.

From California Library project

    1. 25 teams of librarians were trained to develop unpaid jobs for volunteers that go beyond the traditional ones
    2. For example, a retired advertising copywriter might help a library with marketing its services
    3. Lines of authority need to be clear
    4. All staff need training in how to work effectively with volunteers, not just the manager of volunteers
    5. Administrators need to assure volunteers and staff that things are changing and it likely won’t go smoothly

From Lutheran Social Servicesman and woman back to back

    1. Be sure that position descriptions are clear and unambiguous
    2. Spread supervision responsibility for volunteers throughout the staff, not just with one person
    3. Be willing to reassess and revise programs
    4. Be sure staff have realistic ideas about what volunteers can handle
    5. Respect that cross both ways—volunteer for staff and staff for volunteer

From the High Desert Museum in Oregon

    1. Communicate with staff and volunteers
    2. Include volunteers and staff in planning and working together
    3. Post volunteer positions on Web site, similar to those for paid staff
    4. Regular meetings and seminars for paid staff and volunteers
    5. Personnel policies for staff and for volunteers should have clear steps that outline how conflicts will be resolved
    6. Opportunities for staff and volunteers to socialize, i.e.. summer barbecue

For full text of the article: http://philanthropy.com/free/articles/v22/i01/01002101.htm

Reprint from 2009.

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          [Editor’s note] Who would have thought we could have so many people ready to volunteer.   If you are overrun with volunteers it may be hard to turn them down.  Mary Kay Hood, a Volunteer Today columnist (see Healthcare Volunteering Page), sent this commentary to the editor of VT.  While it was written with health care volunteers in mind, she makes some good points.  Read it for some good insights on saying no.

We are being inundated with people who want to volunteer. It could be they were laid off and want to keep their skills sharp. Sometimes when a person is  laid off, they look to healthcare as a stable industry for a career change. If they were lucky enough to take an early retirement package, they may still want to feel useful, needed or just be around people. Whatever the reason that brings them to the door, volunteer leaders are being challenged to be ready, willing and able to welcome them with open arms. Or should we?

It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon and welcome these folks with open arms. However, as the leader of your organization’s volunteer program, it is important to remember to stay focused on the organization’s mission. Does the influx of the temporary folks really fill a need for your organization? Or because some of these people continue job searching while they are volunteering and you know they are short-timers, does the constant introduction and rotation of new volunteers into the already stressed staff really the best way to deliver quality patient care?small notes

As volunteer leaders, we are generally caring folks who want to help people – after all, that’s what drew us to this business. But, I wonder, are we doing our organizations any favors? Are we doing the right thing for the volunteer?

So if we have to say “no,” how do we do that graciously? As volunteer leaders within our community, should we not truly be leaders?  What I mean by that is each one of us should have knowledge of other nonprofit organizations in our area. Then, as the interview process progresses and you get the “feeling” that your organization might not be the best placement, you can offer alternatives for them. This can often be handled in such a fashion that it appears as though you are doing them a favor.

If you have no openings that match their skills or schedule, you can direct them to other agencies that can utilize the person’s skill set. This can be done very graciously. In the end, you should be honest and forthright with them. After all, isn’t that how you would wish to be treated. 
Mary Kay Hood


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Get a tip on some aspect of volunteer administration daily on Twitter.

You do not need a twitter account. Just visit the site on the Web. Paste this address into your browser and you can pick up new ideas. Book mark the page for ease of revisiting.



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