Having managed volunteers for close on 19 years I have gained the best knowledge from volunteers themselves. I like to probe, constantly. Why did you volunteer? Why did you chooses this organisation? Have you volunteered before? What was that experience like for you? What keeps you volunteering?
An effective Volunteer Manager has a curious mind. Curiosity may have killed the cat but in our field we can gain great learning from it. Why does John, who volunteers every Thursday morning and has done so for the last 12 years continue to do so? Why does Skye make time for volunteering despite her busy university life and social life?
The Volunteer interview is my favourite place to get valuable information about people, their motivations and their past experiences. It is also the place to get to know their expectations. How many of us forget to ask about their expectations? Does it become a place where we simply “Tell” them what is expected and then prattle on about the many rules and regulations? Then we wonder why they leave after a few weeks. Yes, you can pretty much lose volunteers at the interview itself.
So here’s my list
- The interview is too formal and serious. You spend most time talking about your organisation and not the prospective volunteer. You spend too much time on “The Rules”.
- Your orientation program is cold. That is to say the process is as formal and boring as the interview was. Yes, critical training and messages must be passed on but for goodness sake lighten it up a bit. Are you inspiring people at this stage? Are you telling stories about what the organisations volunteers are doing? Are you demonstrating their impact? How? Or are you just saying “We have 400 lovely volunteers who are always lovely!” Please. Volunteers want to see the difference you are making and how that is being achieved.
- Nobody is too sure what the volunteer should be doing when they commence. Sure it’s a rare enough occurrence but it happens when it shouldn’t. Ever! On site orientation and getting to know everyone is critical. If you haven’t planned professionally for the volunteer starting then you are in trouble.
- Volunteers see other volunteers doing nothing or simply not being very nice to each other and no one says anything because “they are volunteers”. Volunteers may not say it but they expect good leadership. If they come into a program and see volunteers who may have been there for years and are stuck in some ways that are troublesome because no one addressed them, then they will soon disappear. Effective Volunteer Management ensures it is a safe and enjoyable volunteering space for everyone and knows how to manage the difficult conversations
- A volunteer finishes a few shifts and wonders if they are making a difference at all. They may leave and never tell you why. Volunteers should leave every shift enabled, empowered and inspired. I’ve volunteered for organisations where I’ve felt this at the end of every shift so it can be done. Sometimes stopping a volunteer during the day to say “You know what, what you did today was amazing and I’ll tell you why..” is enough to put a spring into any volunteers step and have them looking forward to the next shift!
- Change without consultation. Need I say much more on this? Change is inevitable. A good leader brings their teams along with them in a consultative way.
- No ongoing training opportunities. Most volunteers are keen to learn and to try new things with your organisation. Maybe they don’t. But have you asked them?
- Nobody says thanks. You will often hear volunteers espousing that they do not do their work for thanks. Yet nobody likes not being appreciated, not being acknowledged and not being validated. Don’t fall into the trap of saying your “Thanks” only during National Volunteer Week or IVD. Do it and do it often.
- Lack of communication. Imagine something big happening at your organisation and you share it with your paid staff and no one remembered to share it with the volunteers? Use every means of communication you can. Embrace Social Media! Re read number 6!
- Lack of flexibility. Volunteer’s lives like everyone else can change rapidly. Can you help the person who used to volunteer one day a week to one day a month if this is what they want? Can you take back that volunteer who wants to leave for six months to travel or study? Can you make it as easy as possible for people to volunteer and stay volunteering? Ask yourself what are your top 5 barriers to people volunteering with your organisation.
Of course this list could be extended and I am sure you could add a lot more. So please do! :-)