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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.

~January 2014 ~

wordle with words related to management of volunteers


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I am teaching an online class on supervision and management of volunteers at Portland State University.  Some conversations during class will address the issue of volunteer/paid staff relations, but not nearly enough conversation.  In times of lay-offs, downsizing, and reductions in force the fragile relationship of volunteers and paid staff can fray.  This information is from an article first published 2009. I revised a bit and it is as pertinent today as it was in 2009. Nancy Macduff


In many 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., and Jone Pearce, author of Volunteers: The Organizational Behavior of Unpaid Workers (Routledge, 1993),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 wanted volunteers who behaved professionally and honored time commitments.  New policies for volunteers were instituted to 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 Servicessign that says friction

  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 crosses 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.  Better known as grievance procedures.
  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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         Managing volunteers includes considering the risks to the volunteer, the organization, the person or thing being served, and to the larger community.  Most organizations are working toward protecting all these stakeholders from the common types of physical risk.  It is also important to consider the risks related to money.

         Many volunteers handle money for gift shops, events, sales of memorabilia, and the like.  Here are some risk management questions to insure that you are taking steps to protect everyone who deals with money or fiduciary issues.

    • If you are running an organization, are the appropriate audit controls established and enforced?  For example, two signatures on all checks and no exceptions and no “pre-signing.”
    • Are the volunteer positions that deal with money rotated on a regular basis?  Keeping the same person in a position indefinitely is not good management and has the potential to invite problems.
    • If cash or checks are handled by a volunteer, are they deposited immediately?  Establish systems to get money into a secure location as quickly as possible.  It might mean deposit slips and bank envelopes for weekend deposits, but better than the trunk of a car.
    • If you use a safe for money is it fire resistant?
    • Are the premises where cash is kept secure?
    • Do you establish volunteer responsibilities so no one person controls the entire process—receiving money, registering deposits, withdrawals, and balancing the accounts?  By dividing up the duties you automatically build in a check and balance system for dealing with cash.  Recent cases across the world show that voluntary and nonprofit organizations are not immune from the skullduggery of unscrupulous people.

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