Note: this post was originally published on this blog a few years ago, but since Mother’s Day is coming up fast and because my mom and her volunteer tips are awesome, I thought I’d re-post it. Enjoy!
Recently, I asked my mother if she had any insight on volunteer management she could share with me, as I was planning an upcoming post on the topic. Though my mom, Judy, is amazingly good at dispensing advice (wanted or, ahem, not) on all subjects, she is uniquely qualified to advise on the proper care and feeding of your organization’s volunteers. My mom has been a volunteer manager in many capacities: professional volunteer coordinator for my elementary school, school librarian responsible for the wrangling of event and daily volunteers, and, for the past four years, the volunteer manager for The Seasons Performance Hall, a non-profit event and music venue in Yakima, Washington. The Seasons has substantial volunteer staffing needs, with each performance (multiple shows per month, plus a week long festival once a year with back-to-back programming and educational events) requiring a hardy team of volunteer ushers, food servers, merchandise sellers and ticket-takers. My mother coordinates the volunteer staffing for the Seasons and is nearly always doing something to thank them- making cookies, sending hand-written cards, planning a fun thank-you event just for them, etc. Having worked many an evening as a Seasons volunteer (every time I visit my family, in fact), I can say from personal experience that she gives very thorough direction and has a warm, enviable relationship with her volunteer base that many non-profits would love to emulate. Her volunteer advice was so good and thorough that I’m presenting it below without further comment or even very much editing:
Top 6 Non-Profit Volunteer Management Tips
1) Be Thankful. Volunteers can spend their precious free time in many ways. Make sure they know that YOU recognize they are doing you a favor! In other words, appreciate them, compliment them sincerely, and let them know that your organization simply wouldn’t succeed without them. And don’t let yourself forget it. I often greet volunteers with, “I’m SO glad you’re here!”
2) Prepare Them Thoroughly. When recruiting and beyond, try to anticipate the kinds of things potential volunteers may wonder but be reticent to ask, or not know to ask — dress code? when can I leave? where do I put my coat? Then make sure they feel 1000% comfortable asking any questions, and give them opportunities to do so.
3) Give Them A Sense Of The Big Picture. Sometimes it’s important to let volunteers know why their particular task is important. For example, during The Seasons outdoor salsa shows in the summer, concert-goers must use the bathrooms on the side of the building, way back from the action. And someone has to sit there monitoring that they go in and come out. This is a low-glamour volunteer assignment, to say the least. I explain to them why we can’t let people into the larger building (musical equipment in the lobby), that we didn’t have the money for sani-cans so they are saving us money. (Of course, I try to rotate people into that job — no one for the whole night!) If you have volunteers doing a mailing — why is that mailing important? Let them know right off. This also acknowledges their “stake” in your organization’s success.
4) Give Them Credentials. When appropriate, volunteers do like having a badge, shirt, or other signifier of their importance to the organization. Make it official.
5) Plan Ahead!!! Possibly the MOST important thing is to spend time planning ahead how you will utilize the time of your volunteers. NEVER let them show up to you find you dithering, “Oh, that’s right … let’s see here. Hmmm… maybe you could …” Think through their tasks, so you can explain clearly what they are to do — even when you’re going to tell them to improvise or decide things for themselves. That shows the proper respect for their time and will yield the most productive results. This is also one of the most crucial ways to make your volunteer’s experience a pleasant and organized one.
6) Acknowledge Their Efforts. There are scads of sites about volunteer parties and recognition. What you are able to do depends on the size of the organization. It is important, and not a strength of mine, to get volunteer names into print, on posters, etc. Send thank-yous. There are lots of free volunteer management tools online: VolunteerSpot.com is a great site for organizing large volunteer projects and organizations, which happens to have been created by an old neighbor of ours. This site has some clever volunteer thank-you party themes http://www.energizeinc.com/ideas/banquets.html. The point here is to make them feel truly, thoroughly and thoughtfully appreciated.
Hopefully my Mom’s tips will help you wrangle your volunteer base with aplomb- thanks to her for sharing her insight with our readers.
Happy Fundraising and happy Mother’s Day!