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Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
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How to Lead and Manage Volunteers for Super Productivity

It is hard enough leading people when they are being paid to work. How can you attract, retain, and manage people when they are volunteers?

Volunteering can be an extremely rewarding experience for individuals and the organizations they serve. By managing your volunteers well, you can make the most of their time and they can maximize their contributions.

Setting volunteers up for success means being organized about how volunteers will be used, making them feel part of the team, and recognizing them for the work they do.

Here are some suggestions on how to keep your volunteers engaged, focused, loyal, and energized.

Be organized before the volunteers show up

1.Assess your volunteers’ skills. Give volunteers a strength finder or survey to assess where they want to work and what they want to work on to helps them get started for success right away. The military uses volunteers in pharmacies to fill medicines. People who love to volunteer in pharmacies were either former pharmacists or medical personnel or just people who like working with patients.

2.Assess your organization. Recruiting volunteers sounds like a promising idea to help with tasks your team is not currently doing or with jobs that need to be filled that do not require a lot of training. Know what areas need assistance and thoroughly review whether your organization can offer an experience that will benefit both you and your potential supporters. If a volunteer shows up and their supervisor does not have time to get them integrated, the volunteer will not stay. Ensure that you can provide adequate support and supervision.

3.Match the right candidate with the right role. Talk with people about their skills and what they want to do. Someone who works in information technology may want to provide computer services. Or they may want a chance to branch out and do something completely different, like work with children.

4.Have a motivating orientation. Welcome new volunteers with a comprehensive orientation. Brief them on the mission, history, and services of your organization. Take them on a tour of your facilities and the area where they will be working.

5.Provide training. Get off to a good start by offering instruction for the specific tasks that the volunteers will be doing. Experienced volunteers can be a great asset for inspiring newcomers and providing guidance. Complement your training sessions with short manuals or handbooks that volunteers can keep or refer to online.

Working With Volunteers

1.Be clear about roles and responsibilities. Treat volunteer roles like paid positions with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Put expectations and job descriptions for volunteers and the organization in writing. What can the volunteer expect? What can the organization expect? It will help everyone stay on track and accomplish what they set out to do.

2.Integrate volunteers into the organization. Ensure that volunteers feel like they are a valued part of the team. Introduce them to the staff. Invite them to meetings and encourage them to report on their work. When appropriate, many volunteers enjoy having direct contact with the people your organization serves.

3.Treat volunteers like professionals. Volunteers are giving you their most valuable resource – their time, so do not waste it. Get them started right away on meaningful work. The number one reason volunteers say they leave organizations is that the organization wasted their time.

4.Coordinate their time and schedules. Online scheduling tools make a coordinator’s work much easier. Post your volunteer opportunities online so your potential volunteers can view them. Track the number of people who sign up, so you will be prepared to make effective use of their time.

5.Evaluate. Develop procedures to give and get feedback from your volunteers. Volunteers need more support more often, and they are typically happy to provide feedback as well. Constant communication will help improve your volunteer program and their experience over time.

Recognizing Volunteers

1.Get results. The best recognition a volunteer can get is to be part of a successful team. Let volunteers know how their individual efforts advance the mission of your organization. Feeling valued will make them want to keep coming back and recruit their friends to volunteer too. Many hospitals use volunteers as greeters, to check people in, to escort them to procedures, and to make them feel at ease during medical visits. Have a system where patients can recognize outstanding volunteers through notes or comments.

2.Encourage professional advancement. Recent graduates may be looking for experience to enhance their resume. Working professionals may want to improve their skills or participate in an organization that is respected in their field. Retirees may want to continue to work even when they do not need the revenue. Offer to provide reference letters, certificates or other assistance for volunteers who are interested.

3.Hold social function. Some people volunteer in the hope of making new friends. Arrange outings or throw a party that ties in with your mission and fits your budget. For example, a group that works on cleaning up their local river could take everyone out kayaking.

4.Be grateful and say thank you. Make sure that sincere gratitude for specific accomplishments is part of your organizational culture. This is helpful for your paid employees as well. Remind your staff to say please and thank you and remind managers to thank everyone when they perform excellent work.

5. Show appreciation with a small, thoughtful gift. Thoughtful gifts are those that the recipients wants and values. They are an ideal way to show your appreciation and strengthen the connection to your organization. People often equate small gifts with tee-shirts printed with an appropriate slogan or a group photo on a mug. Other gifts may be more tailored to the volunteer’s interests, such as treats and toys for their dog or cat, gourmet cookies, or a nice bottle of wine.

Volunteers are an excellent resource for extending the capacity of community organizations and accomplishing more with less money. Skillful management can help everyone work together with greater success.


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