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Last week, we touched on how setting specific volunteer department goals can help us gain more control of our volunteer programs. The key here is to control the path to achieving the goals.  This path consists of two subsets: Objectives and Volunteer Actions.

No one knows how to effectively engage volunteers more than the volunteer manager (VM). Every VM knows what motivates their volunteers and understands their volunteers’ capabilities. Volunteer Managers also mentally catalog their volunteers’ diverse skill sets and look for ways to unleash volunteers’ potential. This extensive volunteer knowledge is why a VM is so much more innovative in creating the actions (tasks) that fulfill the objectives that meet program goals (an area we will explore next time under strategy).

So, let’s imagine a very simplistic scenario. You are the VM at a crisis shelter. One of your volunteer department goals (and unique goals can be set for each area your volunteers are involved in) is to alleviate weekend staff’s workload.

The first step is to interview weekend staff and ask questions such as:

  • What do you spend most of your time on?
  • What do you wish you could spend less time doing?
  • What do you wish you had more time to do?
  • What duties are you comfortable with turning over to someone else?
  • What qualities would be most helpful for any volunteer who comes in to assist you?
  • What do you believe volunteers are capable of doing well?

By canvassing the staff that will be working with your volunteers, you not only will discover exactly what it is they need to reduce their workload, you will ensure their buy-in from the start. Because their input is the basis for creating your volunteer objectives, staff will be more receptive to the volunteer actions you initiate.

So let’s imagine that by canvassing staff, you learn:

  • Staff is continuously interrupted by phone calls and can’t spend quality time addressing shelter residents’ needs.
  • Staff is not comfortable with volunteers who have not had extensive training working with shelter residents, especially the residents who are new to the shelter.
  • Staff is very attached to the residents and, as a result, are reluctant to let outsiders (volunteers) in.

Now it’s time to set your objective and create actions. And what is the difference between goals, objectives and actions?

A goal is the destination whereas the objective is the path to get there. Actions are the steps along the path. While goals are broad, objectives are measurable. Actions are the concrete steps to get to the objective.

So, you have a goal: Decrease weekend staff workload. Now you need a measurable objective.

Because you have surveyed staff upfront, you take their comments into consideration when determining the objective. Instead of recruiting volunteers in a generic way (to help however staff directs them) you specifically recruit volunteers to man the phones so that staff can spend their time tending to resident needs.

So, let’s say, your measurable objective becomes: Decrease staff’s time spent answering phones by 20% so they can spend more time with shelter residents.

So now we have a goal and an objective:

Goal: Alleviate weekend staff workload.

Objective: Decrease staff time spent on phones by 20% (which BTW, also increases time spent with residents by 20%).

Once your objective is set, you create the volunteer actions.

Actions: Answer phones so staff can spend time tending to shelter resident needs. You now recruit both new and existing volunteers to answer phones at the shelter 20% of weekend time.

When we enlist volunteers “to help” departments, it is difficult to measure the volunteer impact under broad terms. What does help mean? File? Run errands? Answer phones? Data entry? Cleaning the desk?

When we break goals down into objectives (outcome by a measurable unit such as percentage) and create specific actions (file, answer phones, sit with clients) then we can quantify impact. A simple example of impact is:

This month, volunteers spent 20 hours on data entry which allowed staff 20 more hours in analyzing reports. Volunteers increased staff’s ability to analyze reports by 12.5%.

Quantifying impact is just a mathematical way to show results or outcomes or success. Measurable outcomes create easily understood and digestible visuals. The more we can show impact, the more we can steer our programs.

This doesn’t mean that every objective and series of volunteer actions don’t take into consideration what volunteers need and want. Instead, it means you are being very strategic in setting an atmosphere to get what you want. And strategy is essential to volunteer program success.

Next time: Everything is strategic.