Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Volunteer Management- V is for Volunteer, and Victory!!

Recently, at the 2011 ADRP International Conference in New Orleans, I was humbled and honored to receive the 2011 Volunteer Service Award. I was touched as a room full of my peers honored me in such a meaningful way. Which led me to think, hey, I’ve done presentations on volunteer management but haven’t blogged about it yet. So here we go, buckle up!

I have been volunteering in certain capacities all of my life, and now am an engaged volunteer not only in my professional life, but also for my alma mater’s annual fund and admissions office- Go Gamecocks! In addition, I have managed scores of volunteers, some with more success than others. Below is my basic tips and tricks to help ensure your success when you manage volunteers as part of your professional or personal life!

A volunteer is defined as: “A person who voluntarily expresses a willingness to undertake a service” We must remember the key terms WILLING and SERVICE. These are keys to understanding what makes a volunteer tick. I think the photo here expresses the way a greatdeal of volunteers feel.

My biggest tips seem like common sense but at times we forget them because we are so busy or embroiled in the process, we forget that these are people here to help US!

1.Match Strengths, not availability- don’t have a technophobe work on your latest QR code, or merge your excel spreadsheets just because they have time! Make sure your outgoing volunteers are making phone calls and not sorting through data- seems simple doesn’t it?
2.Have Realistic Expectations- Can this person really give this much/do all we are asking? Most volunteers now want projects that are clearly defined and have a beginning and an end and a tangible finish- do your volunteer roles look like that?
3.Spend more time on the front end- strategic planning for your volunteers is essential, you must have a plan for them and their activities and you must be able to step in should you be needed. Your plan should have at all times a goal to educate, enfranchise, and empower volunteers. In addition, the clearer and more transparent your plan, the more engaged your volunteer feels.
4.Be Thankful- there is nothing more meaningful to me as a volunteer or as someone who helps others than a sincere gesture of gratitude. I have two bulletin boards in my office full of thank you notes from colleagues and folks across the world I have helped in some way. When I am having a bad day, I look up at those notes and they make it ALL worthwhile.
5.This is going to be a tough one for some of you-It’s OK to “fire” them--“If you can’t fire a volunteer, you shouldn’t be in a leadership position in your organization.” It’s true, if you try to reassign someone and it really isn’t working, you are left with only one option…Here are some steps to help you.
Get Philosophically Ready and Get Leadership Buy In
Look for Alternatives to Firing-- Re-Assign. Re-Train. Re-Vitalize. Refer. Retire.
Conduct the meeting in a private setting.
Be quick, direct, and absolute.

6.Things that don’t work when managing volunteers:
Mixed Messages
Lack of Defining Roles
Lack of Gratitude
All of these pitfalls will ensure that you will not have happy or repeat volunteers… They will simply spend their time elsewhere. Is this the message you want to send? Make sure you have clarity and focus, a strategic plan and a backup plan when that goes awry!!

I would love to discuss this with you, please feel free to leave comments or ask questions!!
Cheers and thanks for reading,