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 peopleâ€™s talents and interests with charitiesâ€™ needs, as well as common sense practices that encourage volunteers to stay and possibly to do more.
Lately, it seems like the charities Iâ€™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. PMDâ€™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 â€œopt inâ€ 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 donâ€™t have to â€œdraftâ€ 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.Â
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 â€œjump inâ€ and sustain that level of involvement to our (and their) disappointment.