Robbie Samuels has posted my guest blog Making the Most of Volunteers, which has links on ways of thinking about motivation and for podcasts on the “hiring” process .
Enforcing the “Lines” for Volunteers
Last week, I heard on the “news” that celebrity Lindsay Lohan showed up 40 minutes late for her required training for her court-mandated community service, so was sent home (before she was later incarcerated for violating the terms of her parole). Kudos to the charity which enforced its standards rather than accept any effort as better than no effort.
While I’m certainly not Lindsay Lohan, as I attempt to do more, I increasingly run late despite my best attempts to allocate enough time, and it seems that this is not uncommon for others. So when I personally volunteer, I must make a huge effort to overcome my tendency to run late, so that I don’t cause more harm than good, such as delaying meals for many diabetics who must medicate and eat on-time.
As volunteers increasingly take responsibility for critical tasks for nonprofits, nonprofits need to set and enforce appropriate boundaries that reinforce the high standards of their charitable missions. While incarcerating any PMD volunteers who arrive late (or unprepared) is not an option, this year I’ve begun enforcing our basic requirement to call in absences by the day before, by revoking volunteer privileges, so we don’t compromise our services. When volunteers arrive so late that we’ve already scaled back expectations for the group (thereby doing more harm than the good we originally planned), we send latecomers home. And when volunteers arrive unprepared, such as being improperly/unsafely dressed, we also send them home.
This may seem like overkill to some, but we’ve already drawn reasonable, publicly-revealed “lines,” and now we’re actually enforcing them because they are significant to the good we strive to accomplish.
Why Does It Take So Long to Post PMD Project Descriptions and Send Project Details to Volunteers?
Simply said, because I’m waiting for all the details needed for a successful volunteer experience, whether it’s signing up to volunteer and the project itself matching expectations/pr or the details being complete and correct. Since PMD partners with many charities, most of which don’t have staff dedicated to running an ongoing volunteer program, it takes time for us to work out these details together, sometimes longer than expected.
My related TSNE article on nonprofits must prepare to recruit volunteers has gone live today. It’s relevant whether a charity needs a volunteer to help for only two hours one time or needs many volunteers to help for several hours a week.
Don’t Treat Episodic Volunteerism Like One-Night Stands
Check out my guest blog today on VolunteerMaine!
I’ll be presenting a workshop all about episodic volunteering at their annual conference next week.
Humor and stories help people understand/retain key points on engaging volunteers.
Although People Making a Difference (PMD) is often thought of as being the group for individuals and businesses to go to for fun, well-organized, hands-on volunteer opportunities helping community-based charities and their clients in need, PMD also provides needed training and pro bono consulting services (and serves as the fiscal sponsor and leads the Directors of Volunteer Administration (DOVA) ) so that more charities can engage more volunteers effectively.
I’ve been a regular presenter at the annual conferences of VolunteerMaine and the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network, plus the Technical Development Corporation (TDC) and the Nonprofit Net (where they recorded my 90+minute seminar) in Greater Boston. (Since the United Way abandoned volunteer management training when it reorganized two executive directors ago, PMD has been trying to fill the void.)
Earlier this month, I offered data, insights, and advice on enabling volunteers to make a difference to a packed workshop organized by Jackie Cefola and her team at Third Sector New England, as part of its free, Bottom Line training series. Originally planned for just 35 participants, it filled beyond capacity within two days of being advertised, and 50+ people actually participated. I suspect that there is such a huge interest in volunteers since donations of time and treasure distinguish the nonprofit sector, everyone is trying to do more with less during the recession, and a typical American’s volunteer involvement has become just 1-2 times a year. Fyi: I began with trends in volunteer (mis)management and had participants base their thinking on key volunteer motivators balanced with their charities’ prioritized needs, followed by targeted marketing approaches/tools. (Email me if you’d like a copy of the handouts.)
Attendee feedback from this workshop was quite positive, and I was delighted to learn that many people appreciated my humorous approach. While I don’t typically think of myself as a funny person, I guess I do use humor when sharing stories of nonprofits and volunteers, particularly cautionary tales, beginning with my own story as a 10-year-old, novice violinist “serenading” captive/immobile residents at my great grandmother’s convalescent hospital.
In my subsequent high school years as Key Club Governor and Lt. Governor of the California-Nevada-Hawaii District, I mostly shared lists of facts and dry logic during trainings and presentations I gave, so I’m glad that my presentation style has evolved to integrate relevant storytelling and humor. People really do remember stories, not isolated information, and humor helps us deal with difficult subjects.
Come Together on Common Ground to Re-Establish Our Communities….
PMD volunteers gathered for the scheduled service project the evening of 9/11/01, and while we were not as productive as usual, we worked together for the common good. In the weeks and months that followed, PMD volunteers continued to work together despite area threats and alerts.
“We must continue to allow-and encourage- the diversity, culture and commerce of the United States to thrive in healthy, livable cities, markets, parks and neighborhoods. At this critical time, when so many are scorched by tragedy and fighting fear, we cannot afford to react by building higher fences. Instead we must come together on common ground to re-establish our communities as the foundations of a civilized, compassionate society.”
–The Staff of the Project for Public Spaces, New York City, 9/14/01
It’s All About Who You Know…Well Enough for Mutually Beneficial Relationships
I’m a guest blogger again for VolunteerMaine, leading up to their annual conference where I will present next month, building on last year’s workshop on building community partnerships.
Are You Ready to Recruit Volunteers? http://www.massnonprofit.org/expert.php?artid=1571&catid=64
I’ve provided some Expert Advice for Massnonprofit.org at http://www.massnonprofit.org/expert.php?artid=1571&catid=64
Disclaimer: This is general advice. Results will vary for specific programs and people. For assistance with your volunteer program and its particular challenges, please contact me directly for consultations.
Rejecting/Accepting Volunteers Based on What We Need
Jenny Hibbard blogged about “Volunteer Hoards: More Work Than Help” and Brad Feld blogged about “Saying No in Less than 60 Seconds” this week, so in this spirit of of maximizing the time/effort that one spends on what’s important, I think more volunteer managers need to educate the public as to what their charities need AND say “No” quickly and often, so they can spend time on potential and current volunteers who could/do make a difference to their charities, rather than distracting offers to do unrequested, less needed things, unless, of course, all current volunteer needs are addressed.
First, more charities need to think and plan their volunteer programs critically:
- Assess and articulate their volunteer needs using comprehensive position descriptions
- Determine and allocate charity resources to support a volunteer program that engages volunteers who will address these needs
- Target groups/places with the most likely candidates (rather than a random, shotgun-like approach), using real marketing techniques
- Encourage people to self-select, to apply for specific roles, based on sharing the criteria of each, specific volunteer need
- Maximize staff time spent on people most likely to become (or who already are) great volunteers and be (or keep them) satisfied in these roles
Beyond the aforementioned volunteer program “must haves,” this means learning how to quickly intake and assess nonstandard offers*, and to thank but reject: “Thanks for your kind offer, but your
*This probably means eliminating a general volunteer application form as a first contact a potential volunteer has with a charity, since these forms tend to create more work, like requesting more information, unless a charity has sufficient staffing to review and respond to the volume of general applicants quickly. Lately, I’ve been recommending tailoring forms for specific positions AND only offering them to applicants who have attended an open house or have already completed an unskilled volunteer task for the charity, and thus already learned the basics about a charity and its needs.
Should MA fund Americorps? My unpopular view.
The BBJ has a good article describing AmeriCorps’ potential “do or die” funding situation in Massachusetts.
Although many of my colleagues, AmeriCorps alumni, and friends are lobbying for full funding of AmeriCorps in MA due to the federal match and their livelihoods, I find myself unsure when direct needs like food and housing subsidies, education, day programs for the needy, counseling, and substance abuse treatment are being cut in the state budget process.
I’ve been unconvinced that subsidizing below-minimum-wage positions is the best way to maximize volunteer engagement since AmeriCorps began, and now I question whether saving the Massachusetts Service Alliance should be a priority given the direct needs of the least able among us and the core educational needs of the next generation.
Direct philanthropic investment in experienced volunteer recruiters and volunteer managers paid to serve on charity staffs may be a better route to increase volunteer engagement, versus “hiring” inexperienced people with limited training and resources for short stints without long-term vision and commitment to volunteerism from charity leaders. (And if volunteers are so important, how can we be equal opportunity if we expect them to live on less than minimum wage or limited health coverage?)
There are certainly more active volunteers who are NOT in AmeriCorps than those who are in AmeriCorps, and I contend that broader, more long-term growth will occur if charitable donations are invested directly into community charities like Tenacity in the BBJ article and possibly PMD (rather than passed through a middleman-like agency operating with bureaucratic, government-imposed funding restrictions that impossibly attempts to serve our whole state and all of its communities). More charity boards of directors, executive directors, CEOs, and other leaders must encourage, support, and reward excellent volunteer programs that engage and retain volunteers, and respect, assign, and use volunteers’ time and talents effectively for ongoing and project-based commitments.
If the Massachusetts Service Alliance would expand to assist the majority of charities NOT funded by AmeriCorps that seek to increase their volunteers’ roles and numbers (as evidenced by the many applicants for Commonwealth Corps funding that I wrote about last year), then could we make more progress in our state? This need used to be addressed somewhat by the United Way of Mass. Bay until it reorganized into such tight focal areas such that volunteerism became hidden and disjointed with minimal training and services and a redundant database instead of experienced leaders at the forefront.