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This page is devoted to the management of volunteer programs in health care settings.

~August 2009~

Centralized vs. Decentralized Volunteer Management

Volunteer management is all about the people business.  As a Director of Volunteer Services (DVS), most of what you do is about meeting the needs of the organization and meeting the needs of the people coming to volunteer.  It’s all about building relationships.  And when you can meet the needs on both sides, it’s a wonderful thing.

But as the DVS, is it only YOUR job to be the person meeting all the needs or creating that relationship?  In other words, is the program centralized or de-centralized?  Let me explain.

A centralized program would be one where the DVS is the person responsible for interviewing, screening, placement, supervision, recognition and retention.  You will usually find this type of program in small organizations where volunteers might “check in” every time they are there with the DVS for assignment, supervision and all other aspects of keeping volunteers engaged in the program.  In other words, the relationship is built between the DVS and the volunteer.

A de-centralized program would be one where the DVS is the person responsible for interviewing, screening and placement.  The folks in the department where the volunteer is placed handle supervision.  While some agency recognition may be the responsibility of the DVS, the people in the department where the volunteer is placed handles ongoing daily recognition and retention as well.  The DVS then functions as the “consultant” to the people in the department to ensure a positive ongoing volunteer placement.  In this framework, the relationship is built between the volunteer and the people they interact with as they carry out their volunteer duties.  This type of program is generally found in larger organizations with an array of volunteer opportunities.

So why is this important?  In the quest for DVS’ to be at the management table and get the deserved respect, think about how the program is structured.  Because the next question you need to ask yourself is:  “Does the Director of Human Resources hire, screen, train, supervise and recognize all the employees?”  If the answer to this question is no, then why is there an expectation that the DVS would?  Do we not, in fact, do the same things as the HR Director – only for the non-paid staff?

Get a group of DVS’ together and more often than not, discussion will turn to how the profession can be seen at the professional level it deserves.  Sometimes the biggest obstacle is our own view of our work.  We need to begin to think more along the lines of the HR Director, broaden our horizons and function more as the expert on volunteer management issues for the rest of the staff.  Delegate the responsibility for supervision, recognition and retention to the people directly working with the volunteers.   Be willing to let go of the relationship so the people working with the volunteer can nurture it.  You’ll still be involved because as the expert on volunteer management issues functioning as the consultant for both the employees and volunteers.  Who knows?  The rest of the staff members may begin to see you in a new light. 


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The author of the Heath Care Volunteer Programs column is Mary Kay Hood MS, Hendricks Regional Health, Danville, IN (317) 745-3556. With a BS degree in biology from Marian College and a Master of Science in Management from Indiana Wesleyan University, Mary Kay has been involved in volunteer management over twenty years with a zoo and in the health care field. During that time, she completed the Management of Volunteer Programs course offered at University of Indianapolis, several supervisory training programs as well as the Indiana Hospital and Health Association’s Management Institute offered by the Executive Education Program, School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. Mary Kay served on the Nonprofit Training Center of United Way from 1993 to 2006. During that time, she taught many workshops also facilitating speaker arrangements for the Basic Volunteer Management series. Additionally, she has presented at various national and international conferences. Mary Kay served as president of the Central Indiana Association for Volunteer Administration (CIAVA) from 1993-1997 and the Indiana Society of Directors of Volunteer Services (ISDVS) from 2006-2008. She was also the recipient of the 1995 Outstanding Director of Volunteer Services Award and the 2002 United Way of Central Indiana Volunteer of the Year Award. Most recently she served on the Steering Committee for COVAA resulting in the formation of a new national membership organization for those in volunteer management, the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (AL!VE). With several published articles, she is also author to two books: The One Minute Answer to Volunteer Management Questions and The Volunteer Leader as Change Agent.

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