Archive for September, 2006

Communicate About the Details

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

PMD focuses on short-term volunteer commitments. However, we also strive to develop ongoing relationships with the charities we help. Over time, the charities and I learn how best to work together, whether it is understanding what we’re good at (or not) and the activities that are really suited to our help and skill sets. 

Communicating about the details is key to project organizing. During our initial service projects, a charity may not understand or appreciate that it must communicate whether it really can follow through on the lists of tools and materials that it agreed to provide. As a result, we sometimes don’t have all the tools and materials that I estimated that it would take to complete the planned tasks, which really frustrates the volunteers and me. Had I known in advance that the charity could not purchase or borrow a wheelbarrow, tamper, etc., then I would have taken it upon myself to get it or to modify the work expected. 

After we’ve worked together on a few service projects, it becomes easier due to repetition and due to fewer communication barriers about what we each really need, whether it’s meeting a deadline for up-to-date literature about the charity or providing particular tools and materials. 

Since we have openings for projects on December 2 and 9, I hope to hear from some of the charity representatives who lurk on PMD’s email list. We haven’t worked together yet, but they’ve skimmed PMD’s weekly project announcements to develop a sense about the kinds of service projects that PMD organizes. Then when potential service project opportunities arise at their charity, these folks call and discuss them with me. There is no required application form/bureaucracy since we aren’t even sure yet that we can work together. 

Volunteer Levels/Structure and Rationale

Monday, September 25th, 2006

With more than 3,200 participating volunteers who have generously given their feedback at every PMD project, plus many years professional work at local charities, I have a good sense of expectations versus reality. So I continue to provide local charities with training and consulting services about volunteer management, particularly as they relate to matching people’s talents and interests with charities’ needs, as well as common sense practices that encourage volunteers to stay and possibly to do more.

Lately, it seems like the charities I’ve assisted have wanted to know how to structure their volunteer programs, so I thought that I would share how things have worked best for PMD.

There is a distinct progression in the relationship between our volunteers and our organization. Everyone who manages projects for PMD has been a regular volunteer participant. Everyone considered for the board of directors has personally volunteered for PMD service projects.

We think small and discrete when it comes to initially volunteering. PMD’s 3- to 7-hour projects allow people to pick and choose and to avoid taking responsibility for anyone other than themselves. Even if the activity is not as enjoyable as they thought it would be, their only commitment is 3-7 hours, not 6-24 months. People have the option to participate as much as they wish to “opt in” as long as they can reliably follow through as expected. Thankfully, communicating our volunteer opportunities to 900 people on our private email list is usually sufficient, so I don’t have to “draft” any friends to participate and thus all participants are motivated to be there.

When things click, people tend to volunteer for more PMD projects. When they have gained wider experience and shown themselves to be enthusiastic, reliable, and responsible, some are invited to train to become PMD Project Managers who lead groups of other volunteers four times a year. Others who have needed skills like fundraising, bookkeeping, etc. and express interest in longer-term participation are invited to work on board-level activities and then to join the board of directors if they can address a specific need and make a 3-year commitment. 

It makes sense that no one skips the basic act of volunteering in our core program. Occasionally I have been lured into thinking that we could overlook this requirement, but in each case I have come to regret it. The allure of someone who says s/he will do amazing things for PMD at the management level has caused me (and board members) to give an untried person too much responsibility too early in the relationship, and they have been unable to “jump in” and sustain that level of involvement to our (and their) disappointment.

Directors of Volunteer Administration (DOVA)

Sunday, September 24th, 2006

This year (2006-7), I am president of the local Directors of Volunteer Administration (DOVA), a local professional organization for people and nonprofit agencies involved in volunteerism and volunteer administration in Greater Boston. I have been a DOVA member and sometime officer for more than a decade, and have found the networking and learning opportunities helpful at all stages of my career.

This Thursday, 9/28, 9:30-11:30 AM, at the Emmanuel Gospel Center there will be a great program about “Successful Recruitment Strategies for Specific Communities” with panelists Penn Loh, Executive Director, Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE), and Tracy Stanley, Manager of External Relations, Big Brothers of Massachusetts Bay. If recruiting more diverse participants is a goal, don’t miss this program. R.s.v.p. to Debbie Barr, DOVA Program Vice President,

On Tuesday October 17, join us at 3:30 PM at Grendel’s Den for a Happy Hour/Late Lunch networking and discussion about “Screening Volunteer Applicants, from CORI to References.” Grendel’s is extending their special $3.95 express lunches for DOVA attendees. This is a “pay for yourself” gathering. R.s.v.p. to me by 10/13.

Everyone can join DOVA for $35 per individual per year, and enjoy six professional development and networking programs; job opportunity postings; and membership directory. Non-member can attend meetings for $10 per person.

For membership information, contact Michele Mitsumori, DOVA Membership Vice President,