The Best Advice

I recently had the opportunity to present a workshop for a group of new managers of volunteers. I only had five hours with them to share the most basic topics in volunteer management. It’s never easy to decide on what to say, but here are the points I never leave out:

1 – Volunteers are people. They are just as reliable and trustworthy as staff. They aren’t “just” volunteers. Make yourself a promise to never use language that would suggest volunteers are second rate.

2 – You don’t always need to say “yes”. We’re not doing our organizations or our volunteers any favours by accepting anyone and everyone, squeezing people into roles that don’t suit them. Best to be thoughtful and consider each volunteer carefully and individually.

3 – Volunteer Motivation. Here’s my take on how to retain volunteers – match volunteer motivations and expectations with the experience they have as they volunteer in your organization.

4 – Volunteers deserve feedback. Give performance feedback often. Every volunteer deserves to know how well they are doing and where they can improve.

5 – Planning is an investment. Take the time to build an infrastructure in your organization to support volunteers. I imagine it’s like becoming a new parent who spends months decorating a nursery and buying tiny clothes. To the new arrival they say “we’ve hoped for you, we’ve planned for you and we welcome you”.

 What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten about volunteer management? What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned along the way?

–  Janet Burstall, Volunteer Calgary’s Community Development Manager


About Propellus

Propellus is a non-profit organization that has been empowering organizations since 1955. Through a dynamic range of consulting, training and member services, it helps organizations envision and realize new paths, practices and possibilities. Propellus guides, mentors and educates clients, arming them with tools and resources to help boost organizational effectiveness. Propellus strengthens organizations; in doing so, it leads the way toward building thriving communities.
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6 Responses to The Best Advice

  1. Very wise Janet! I wish I could have been a part of that workshop, thank you for the blog even the things you wrote I will keep and take to heart.
    Thanks for being awesome!

  2. Janet says:

    Thanks LeeAnne. We’re all looking forward to your podcast debut! Stay tuned for more details…

  3. Thanks for the post Janet! Each point you’ve raised is really important for managers to take into consideration, especially when it comes to volunteer retention. On that note, November 5th is International Volunteer Manager’s day. Their website has some ways organizations can thank volunteer managers –

  4. DJ Cronin says:

    Good post Janet

    One of the most imperative lessons I have learnt along the way is the fact that organisations that value volunteer management value volunteers. The two are intrinsically linked. If an organization neglects to support volunteer management by means of resources, budget, professional development etc then what does that say about the value they place on volunteers? A simple link maybe but a crucial one and a link that needs to be made in the minds of volunteer managers everywhere who are seeking more support from their management, leaders, boards and CEOs etc in their organisations.

  5. Janet says:

    Thanks DJ! We’re happy to hear from you on our blog. Too often we are that missing link ourselves when we aren’t able to articulate or demonstrate our professionalism and value. Thanks for raising your voice!

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