The New Volunteer Manager’s Toolkit
For any fundraiser, having a stable of dedicated, enthusiastic volunteers is a wonderful thing. But at times, managing those volunteers can be a challenge. In an Aug. 19 VolunteerMatch webinar, The New Volunteer Manager’s Toolkit, Manager of Volunteer Programs Jennifer Bennett and Director of Strategic Initiatives Sarah Christian outlined some best practices for managing volunteers.
Successful program characteristics
Bennett kicked things off by laying out successful volunteer program characteristics. “You will all have your own goals with volunteers,” she said. “A successful program allows you and your volunteers to reach those goals.”
Bennett said successful program characteristics apply and integrate these qualities:
- Knowing your volunteers — initially and ongoing. Learn about them and continue to communicate with them.
- Completing your due diligence. Do your homework to assess risk management, and also get the chance to better know and understand prospective volunteers.
- Making sure you’re all on the same page. “Does everyone — volunteers, staff, clients — know what’s expected of them? Is it written down? Has everyone agreed to follow the rules?” Bennett asked.
Common program components
Christian then went into further detail on common volunteer program components, providing this disclaimer: “You may not need every one of these components, but each component should be evaluated regularly.”
- Job descriptions. “They’re important for everyone,” Christian said. They must be well-thought-out, detailed and comprehensive so volunteers know exactly what you expect from them.
- Recruitment plan. Where and when can you find potential volunteers, but most importantly, why? You must find volunteers who share the same passion for your mission. Target messages for each channel, and institute marketing and communications best practices.
- Application. Get all the relevant information — contact information, etc. But also start to get to know your volunteers better, i.e., “Why do you want to volunteer at the library?”
- Interview. When interviewing volunteers, build on the application questions. Ask about skills, interests, experience, and then determine if they fit your organization.
- Orientation. Don’t overlook orientation for new volunteers. Use it as an opportunity to share what you do and why you do it. Introduce the culture, policies, procedures, etc.
- Training. Ask what volunteers need to know to be successful, Christian said, and then make sure to provide them with those tools.
- Non-disclosure agreement. Should cover work product, equipment and sensitive information.
- Background check. A must for organizations that work with at-risk populations such as children and the elderly, as well as for positions with access to sensitive information.
- Reference check. “Consider asking for volunteering references, as well as personal and/or professional references,” Christian advised.
- Policies and procedures handbook. Begin with applicable HR policies. Then determine what other policies need to be included — instances where things went wrong, conflict resolution, dismissal or termination procedures.
- Acknowledgment form. To acknowledge that they’ve received and read the handbook.
- Memorandum of understanding/agreement letter. Specific for each volunteer/volunteer position. Identifies the who, what, when and for how long. Use it to reinforce the most important policies and procedures.
To keep your volunteers, you must first understand why some leave and others stay. The reason is that different volunteers have different expectations based on:
- Organizational culture
- Work vs. job description
- Time commitment
- Communication and style
- Program support and training
- Motivation and philosophy
Your organization must understand each volunteer’s point of view in these things and act accordingly. Maintain a relationship by continuing ongoing communications, and identify and address signs of disengagement. But remember, volunteers have lives, too. You can’t plan for life. Therefore, chances are you will lose some of your volunteers.
How a volunteer wants to be recognized is unique to each volunteer so:
- Ask how they liked to be recognized. Send a survey or questionnaire. What do they like to do, eat, drink, etc.?
- Recognize professional work in meaningful ways — credit, public acknowledgment, etc.
- Don’t underestimate heartfelt, handwritten notes. Best if written personally by a client or staff member.
Evaluating your program
Which program components are you currently using? Which should you be using? Are you thinking about risk and risk management? Evaluate your retention strategies, and ask how your volunteers want to be thanked.
All the pieces in your volunteer engagement program need to protect your program, volunteers, staff, clients and patrons, and organization from all the things that could go wrong, Christian and Bennett said. Volunteer management is about identifying potential and making the perfect match, so be sure to:
- Provide meaningful work for the volunteer
- Create work that’s important to the organization
- Find the right fit
- Make good use of individual skills and talents
- Build and maintain personal relationships
Do that, and you're sure to have a dedicated, happy volunteer base.