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On this page are ideas from strategies to help you work more efficiently to the latest in research on keeping volunteers happy and productive, as well as ideas, suggestions and hints to build volunteer recruitment capacity.

~April 2009~

  • Turning Down Volunteers

              [Editor’s note] Who would have thought we could have so many people ready to volunteer when they are out of work or losing a home.  If you are overrun with volunteers it may be hard to turn them down.  Mary Kay Hood, the 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.
    Turning people away

    With the current economy, we are all being inundated with people who want to volunteer. It could be they were laid off and want to keep their skills sharp. Or maybe because they were laid off, people 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 theses 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?

    As volunteer leaders, we are all 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 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 want to be treated?


      Want some ideas on how to keep your job in volunteerism?  Read Mary Kay Hood’s column on this topic on the Health Care Volunteering page.  It applies to everyone.  Then check in with Melissa Heinlein’s column on visibility for your program on the Government Volunteering page.  The columnists this month are provocative in their views and inspiring. 


What To Do When There Are Too Many Volunteers?

         This article is the flip side of saying no to volunteers.  Here is an idea to get more people engaged with the organization and its services.

  • Create an internal “jobs” bank.  Contact all staff and ask them to develop “short” (less than 3 month) tasks that could be completed by volunteers with a minimum of training. 
  • These might be jobs left languishing because there is never enough time to do things. (filing, sorting, creating a database, cleaning, extra help for clients (speed screening is required-or only possible if a long term volunteer is a partner)
  •  Create a form to mimic an episodic position description.  Gather information from all departments, even those who have never used volunteers in the past.
  •  Get one of those new volunteers to create a database that is easily manipulated, so you can bring people in and immediately find a location for them.
  • Plan a speed training session to cover the basics—liability things and get them assigned as soon as possible.
  • Form a committee of experienced volunteers to help organize and oversee this program. 
  • Create volunteer middle management program for existing volunteers to oversee the new comers.
  • Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate.
  • Stay in touch with paid staff to see how the program is working.
  • After three or four months send out another request for the short tasks

If a volunteer who arrives during this challenging economic time appears to be a candidate for longer term or more challenging assignment, ask them.  Some people need to try things out before committing.  This is also a way to test the skills of an individual in flexibility.  An important commodity for any volunteer.

Are you wondering if you are wired enough for this modern era and capable of communicating with younger and/or wired volunteers?  Visit the TechTips page to take a test to determine the “connectability” factor for your volunteer program.

How Do Americans Spend Their Time?

Recent reports by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a window into the daily life of Americans.  Here are some snapshots to help you understand what people do instead of volunteering.

  • 66% of men reported doing some type of household activity each day (cooking, lawn work, checkbook management) 2.1 hours on average
  • 83% of women reported doing some type of household activity each day. 2.7 hours on average.
  • Americans over the age of 75 spent 20 minutes a day playing on the computer (up from 2006 when it was 12 minutes)
  • Teens between 15-19 years of age spent less time on the computer from the previous year and doubled the amount of time spent reading. Less than an hour on the computer and 14 minutes reading in 2007
  • The two groups who spent the most time emailing in 2007 were those over age 75 and those age 15 – 17.
  • Watching television is the most common leisure activity for adults in the US, about 2.6 hours per day from a couch.
  • Teens spend less time eating than any other group and more time on personal grooming.
  • American men spend an average of 2 hours per day playing sports; for women it is 1.4 hours.
  • Adults with children under 6 spend about 2 hours per day on childcare.
  • Households with children from 7 – 17 dropped their childcare hours by half.

Source:  US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Time Use Survey—2007 Results at www.bls.gov

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