Each month, Volunteer Calgary chats with a manager of volunteers with one of our non-profit member organizations to share their personal success stories and best practices in the field of Volunteer Management.
Deanna Holt’s journey to being a manager of volunteers at CUPS was a long road filled with twists and turns. While Holt had often thought that she would like to work for a non-profit agency, that is not where she started. Before managing volunteers Holt worked in esthetics, outside sales and even worked with EMS before she found CUPS. Holt’s educational background is just as diverse as her employment history; she studied archeology, completed the EMT-A program at SAIT, and public relations at Mount Royal.
Holt’s first experience with volunteers came after taking on the role of fund development specialist at CUPS, before being put in the new position of volunteer manager.
“It seemed like a wonderful challenge and the volunteers that I already had contact with were so dedicated and wanted to help in so many ways, I knew I needed to facilitate that for them,” says Holt. “I am extremely fortunate to have the strong support from my senior directors to grow and develop the CUPS Volunteer Engagement Program.”
Growing and developing volunteer engagement in the organization is what Holt has done; because she understands that to truly engage volunteers is easier when you utilize their pre-existing skills and abilities.
“I love it when an existing or potential volunteer comes to me and says that they have a specific skill that they think we would benefit from,” explains Holt. “Sometimes I can see a way to fit them into an existing role and other times I have been able to fill a niche that we didn’t know we had.”
Like most organizations that have a grass roots beginning, CUPS wouldn’t exist if volunteers didn’t help it get off the ground, and Holt believes that many of their programs wouldn’t be able to exist without the dedicated army of volunteers that donate their time to the organization. Volunteers at CUPS do everything from stuffing envelopes to doctors and dentists donating their professional skills.
When volunteers first start at CUPS they go through an orientation and are given a manual that describes the policies and procedures of the organization. Both the orientation and the manual were updated by Holt since the relocation in the fall of 2012. She is constantly finding ways to tweak the system, for instance Holt hopes to develop a virtual orientation option in the future.
Having a solid training foundation is a way of getting volunteers engaged in the program, but keeping them engaged and feeling appreciated is Holt’s favourite part of her job. CUPS had a wine and cheese event to recognize the valued contributions of their volunteers, with another volunteer appreciation event in the works for the spring. Like many managers of volunteers, she also shows thanks with movie passes and gift cards.
Holt also tries to customize ways to show thanks for truly significant contributions. When a long-time volunteer at CUPS had been essential to a project, they decided to name the project she worked on after that volunteer; “so when the time comes for us to recruit someone else to take over her role, the contribution she made will continue to be recognized,” explains Holt.
Being a manager of volunteers does have its challenges, something that Holt acknowledges. People working in the non-profit sector know that you have be able to see all the angles of the big picture to be truly effective. Holt believes that the most challenging aspect of her role is to see the needs of each of the programs and address those needs accordingly. “While we have the same goal in mind, everyone [each program] has a different path to achieve it, and my challenge is to find the right person to follow those paths,” says Holt.
Despite the difficulties in her position, Holt says that she has never loved a job more:
“I am very fortunate to work with a wonderful team of people at CUPS and our volunteers are some of the most generous and dedicated that I have met. The best part of my job is knowing that I have the support, both internally at CUPS and externally from organizations like Volunteer Calgary, to grow and improve our volunteer program exponentially.”
On her journey as a manager of volunteers, Holt has picked up some tricks along the way, and was kind enough to share them with Volunteer Calgary.
Recognize Skills – Whenever possible, try to find the right people and then create valuable volunteers opportunities around their specific skill and interest set, rather than trying to make a person fit a specific job description.
Outside the Box – Being able to think outside the box has been the one skill that I needed to refine more than any other for this role; being creative and innovative is key to managing volunteers and creating valuable roles or them.
Follow up – Following up and following through, not only with your volunteers, but also with co-workers that work with volunteers, is crucial.
Evaluation – You must be constantly evaluating your program on both a macro and micro scale and understand that it is an evolving organism that will change and grow.