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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.

~March 2009~

Funding the Small Thing

  • A teacher in New York founded a Web based organization called DonorsChoose (http://www.donorschoose.org/homepage/main.html?zone=404).  The site lists smaller projects in schools around the US that are funded by donors.  A school needs a copy of a book and individuals pledge to that specific need.  It has been highly successful.  Many of the requests are for $300 or less.  Donors need only send what they can toward specific projects.

    Volunteer programs and nonprofits could do the same.  Asking people to fund something specific is better than a generic, “We need money.”  For example, if the budget for recognition has been slashed the organization or program could send out a request for $300 to fund thank you items for volunteers.  Encourage people to send small amounts--$10—to help fund this one specific thing.  It is likely that clients and/or staff could provide a list of things needed that are of modest cost. 

    Instead of setting up an expensive, secure Web site; requests could be made through email or regular meetings.  Establishing such a program could be a great job for a former volunteer who might want to help without a continuous commitment.  Visit the DonorsChoose site to get ideas on how to do this.

Is It Really "I Quit?"

    Sometimes volunteers fade into the background and disappear and sometimes he/she makes a dramatic exit.  The disappearance of a volunteer is a time for action on the part of those who manage volunteers.  Here are some tips.

Never avoid reality If a volunteer leaves with no explanation, either in a fury or by not showing up, face up to reality that there is a problem.  It might not be with the organization, but ignoring it sends a message to other volunteers about the level of concern for their presence.

Provide for calm down period.  Give someone time to rethink his/her decision.  Few decisions are irreversible.  This is especially true if someone leaves in frustration or anger.

Follow-up.  Contact anyone who leaves with no explanation.  That includes people who just seem to fade out.  Exit interviews are the norm in many for-profit businesses and should be so in volunteer programs with long-term continuous serving volunteers.  This interview should always occur with departing volunteers.  It is a way for the organization to understand why people leave, to better understand retention.

Get someone else to help.  Ask someone a volunteer might see as neutral to contact the person who has left.  This is especially important if the person left in anger.  This person might be able to get a more objective explanation for the departure.  Volunteers rarely want to hurt the feelings of leaders (in an all voluntary organization) or paid staff.

Be flexible about requests to return.  Sometimes individuals misunderstand a situation and leave.  There is regret and a wish to return.  Make that happen in a graceful manner (Graceful’s definition-courteous good will).

Get the facts.  Allowing someone to return means being sure of the facts in the situation.  If someone was abusive or out of control with clientele or other volunteers and paid staff, the manager of volunteers needs to know what happened from a variety of points of view.  This is especially important if letting the person return to their position.

If a volunteer returns to his/her position be sure the ground rules or boundaries are established.  Being a volunteer does require some self-discipline and bad behavior does not need to be forgiven over and over.  Be consistent and talk to the person about acceptable ways to solve problems.

What is Your Retiree Appeal?

       People who are retiring now are usually not interested in those long-term continuous jobs in volunteering that were held by their parents.  Managers of volunteers need to assess that appeal of their tasks and jobs for volunteers to retirees.  Here are some suggestions.

      Most retirees worked for pay for 40-60 hours a week or more.  Their primary interest in retirement is not working on a regular schedule.  These are people who want time for new hobbies, grandchildren, golf, bridge, or new learning experiences.  Keep this in mind in designing jobs to attract them.

       Make no assumptions about what the volunteers know.  Some are tech savvy and some are not.  Do not insult them by treating them as if he/she had never seen a computer. 

       Do not shout at them.  Studies in the for profit world indicate that managers shout at older workers.  The person might not be hard of hearing, just mulling what you are saying.  Again, know to whom you are speaking. 

       Assume that old dogs can learn new tricks.  Retirees are returning to all forms of schooling when their “work for pay” career is over.  The baby boom generation is the highest educated generation of any that we have currently.  These are people anxious to learn new things.  Provide them with challenging job opportunities, not the tired old jobs that have been around for 50 years.

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