explaining volunteer management, non-profit, volunteer, volunteer coordinator, volunteer engagement, volunteer manager
Do #LoVols chat up potential volunteers, make a few phone calls and then go home to binge watch Mind Hunter while eating Cheetos and petting the rescue cat? What do we do all day, exactly?
We say things like, “I do a bit of everything,” or “I’m a jack of all trades,” or “depends upon the hour, ha ha,” which gives the impression that we are not in control and have no direction. Here’s the thing though: We are in total control and every portion of our day is devoted to engaging volunteers and creating volunteer impact. It’s time we show the world we are proactive, not reactive. Let’s gather all of our people skills under one term, “volunteer engagement skills” and stop downplaying our role. We’re a Jack of the volunteer engagement trade which consists of all kinds of skills, each one working towards a single purpose: creating an effective volunteer experience and team.
We wear volunteer engagement and impact gear. Our skill set is people- saturated. What looks breezy is calculated. What looks effortless is deliberate. What looks casual is strategic.
We may appear to be socializing but we are establishing a welcoming and meaningful atmosphere through the hard work of making it look effortless so volunteers are engaged and add value. There is method to our madness as we strategically create a team of effective volunteers through each people-saturated element:
- on-boarding and/or orienting
- efficiently and effectively communicating
- training to position
- adjusting or agile thinking
let’s look at each element and why it is crucial to volunteer impact:
- vetting: includes background checks, reference checks, one on one interviews, sit-downs and all other “getting to know a volunteer” tactics.
- Why is this important? Volunteer engagement professionals (LoVols) weed out potential harmful volunteers and redirect volunteers to a fit that works for all stakeholders ensuring clients and staff work with competent people that do no harm and produce results.
- onboarding and/or orienting: includes introduction and immersion into the mission. Whether by formal or informal methods, the LoVols connects the new volunteer to the work. Orientation is the emotional glue that binds a volunteer to the organization.
- Why is this important? Volunteer engagement professionals ensure each volunteer understands organizational purpose and intent and is in sync with mission goals and objectives, thus equipping a volunteer with the necessary emotional connection to embrace the mission.
- looping: includes checking in and checking back with clients, staff and the volunteer in a continuous loop to ensure satisfaction by all stakeholders.
- Why is this important? Feedback is key to volunteer, staff and client satisfaction. Continual feedback and adjustments create impactful, working relationships, and prevent missteps, misunderstandings and potential disasters. Unlike employees, volunteers work less time without pay so looping is crucial to volunteer success.
- efficiently and effectively communicating: includes emails, chats, phone calls, meetings and all other methods providing information to volunteers.
- Why is this important? LoVols balance inspiration and expectations to ensure volunteers understand expectations and organizational direction while reaping the positive benefits of volunteering.
- training to position: this includes on the job training for the volunteer role. Unlike onboarding or orientation to mission, this training is specific to job requirements. Whether the LoVols trains personally or has been instrumental in guiding staff to train new volunteers, training to position ensures volunteers are equipped to function within their roles and produce results.
- Why is this important? Volunteers free staff to accomplish their objectives. Essential training equips volunteers with the confidence to fulfill their roles and allow staff the additional time to accomplish their objectives which becomes a dual benefit.
- educating: this includes newsletters, seminars, workshops, email blasts and other methods to inform volunteers not only about organizational news, but about topics relevant to volunteers’ lives.
- Why is this important? Education is high on employee and volunteer lists of desirable perks. Continually educating volunteers equips the volunteer team with correct and current organizational information, especially since volunteers are WOMM (word-of-mouth marketing) ambassadors to the community. Educational offerings speaks volumes about the commitment to the volunteers’ positions within an organization and to their well-being.
- adjusting or agile thinking: this includes reevaluating volunteer involvement or placement, utilizing innovative methods of retention, matching volunteers to roles, flexible adjustments and any other method to address individual volunteer needs.
- Why is this important? LoVols balance organizational needs with volunteer needs to create a symbiotic relationship that adds value and furthers mission goals.
- mediating: this includes intervening when necessary, balancing the advocating for volunteer rights while promoting organizational needs, finding middle ground that satisfies all stakeholders and honors the mission. It includes having difficult conversations with volunteers, putting the mission first, dismissing a volunteer when necessary and advocating for volunteers to be treated with respect.
- Why is this important? Improving or salvaging a relationship with a volunteer is crucial. Poor experiences affect volunteers, staff and clients. LoVols mediate to ensure all stakeholders are satisfied so that mission goals are achieved.
- structuring strategically: this includes creating innovative new roles to engage today’s volunteers, revamping outdated volunteer positions, policies, procedures and methods of communication, gathering feedback and involving volunteers in strategies.
- Why is this important? As volunteerism evolves, LoVols structure volunteer initiatives to sustain and attract today’s volunteers by creating new roles, offering flex scheduling, sharing jobs, ensuring diversity, engaging virtual and one time volunteers and including volunteers in strategic planning. As demand for volunteers grows, LoVols are busy structuring for future growth and laying the groundwork to attract and sustain a team of effective volunteers who add value.
The next time someone stops and says, “gee, it looks like you’re having a lot of fun,” smile and reply, “I’m actually hard at work because one of my volunteer engagement skills includes making fun look effortless. Thanks for noticing.”
P.S. Feel free to share this with anyone who doesn’t understand your job…your grandpa, your snotty cousin Mildred, all your old college roommates, staff at your organization, your CEO…
Terri M said:
Thank you for the clear description of the soft-skills and complexity of being a #LoVols I am going to use it with my Director and the HR dept.
Thank you Terri, I appreciate it very much. The more we are able to show how many soft skills we must use to sustain our volunteers, the more we’ll be understood and ultimately the volunteers will be given more respect and organizations will realize it’s everyone’s responsibility to engage volunteers. Let us know how it goes!
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