No Time to Waste

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t know anyone who has excess time to waste. With the preparations for PMD’s 15th anniversary, several grants to write, several corporate projects to develop, and running PMD’s regular service program, I’m working 80 hours a week and not happy about it.


So I’m irked when meetings start (and thus end) late or I read about another Big Dig fix at “no taxpayer cost “ (that will cost precious time to many drivers due to reroutings and delays in order for the fixes to be completed).


While wasted time seems to be the status quo, at least PMD service projects start and end on time. We try to respect people’s limited time and their commitment to participate for an entire PMD project. Likewise, we, particularly our volunteer project managers and recipient charities, appreciate when volunteers respect our policies about timeliness. To aid volunteers with this, we ask that they arrive 5-15 minutes in advance of the advertised start time to check and settle in, and we also provide fairly detailed directions and maps with time estimates.


Arriving late or not at all are some of the most stressful things volunteers can do to our project managers. Assignments are incomplete. Orientation must be repeated. As a result, late people don’t enjoy volunteering as much and tend to be more critical despite their being responsible for their lateness, our volunteer project managers are unnecessarily stressed, and the on-time volunteers have to compensate.


Now if only I could get PMD’s board of directors to respect each other’s time and to treat their meetings like PMD projects…. Special kudos to Martha, Danielle, and Karen, who worked with me until 10 PM to complete the invitation mailing last week.

Recruiting Board-Level Volunteers

PMD can always use help from more talented people who believe in our mission. We have done a good job of describing our mission and strategic plan as well as delineating the expectations for board directors and specific officer positions online in various board bank postings.

In the past week, I have spoken with three people who expressed interest in joining PMD’s board. All three are excellent candidates who have the experience and skills to fill specific roles and needs of our small board of directors. One seems especially motivated, whereas another has already (hopefully temporarily) withdrawn from consideration due to workload and the perception that he doesn’t have enough time.

We estimate the time commitment as 8-10 hours per month on average, but this is event-associated and no current members are contributing at this level currently.

The most common reason that people decline is that they say they can’t make the hypothetical time to doing the best job they could do…. Sometimes I feel like telling them that it would even be great to have 50% of the best job they could do since it would make a big difference to PMD compared to not having a position filled at all! After all, no one expects them to make PMD their second job or the top priority in their lives like I have. And, of course, I wonder why folks who don’t have enough time bother to contact me.

I wonder if it is better to underestimate the amount of time a volunteer position will require in order to attract more potential candidates, or to wait to fill needed positions until we identify appropriately talented people who really can put in the time we think it will really take.

CORI Confusion & Sometimes Disappointment

With autumn come misunderstandings and frustrations about the authorization of Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) checks to protect some of our society’s most vulnerable people.

PMD requires authorization of CORI for recipient charities whose policies mandate them, OR PMD conducts its own CORI checks when the people served are elderly, disabled, and/or under age 18.

If you think that you will someday volunteer with PMD on a project serving people who are elderly, disabled, and/or under age 18, I strongly recommend that you proactively complete the authorization form and submit it to me at PMD with a copy of your government-issued photo identification so that this time-consuming step will not impede your future participation.

If you are unsure whether you already have a CORI check on file with a recipient charity or PMD, then quickly contact me so that I can look up what’s been filed. Several people are unable to participate in PMD projects every Sunday before Thanksgiving due to their confusion over what is required. For example, if you previously authorized a CORI check for Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly or another charity to volunteer for a PMD project assisting that charity, then you are only able to participate in Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly or the other charity’s volunteer activities and may still need to authorize PMD to conduct a separate CORI since the laws specifically prohibit disclosure of CORI between agencies.

Background: A decade ago, the state legislature mandated that charities serving elderly and/or disabled people must screen all potential volunteers by conducting a CORI check prior to acceptance. Before this (and legislated again in 2002), charities were already required to do so if there was potential for unmonitored access to children under 18.

Then in June 2005, new regulations required collection of additional information (height, weight, eye color, hair color, birth place, copy of government-issued photo identification, etc.) in addition to name and date of birth to verify a potential volunteer’s identity. Although providing social security numbers remains optional, it is a more reliable way to ensure that the information accessed belongs to you and not someone with a similar name and same birthday. PMD follows the laws specifically mandating confidentiality of this sensitive information.

More information about CORI can be found online.

Communicate About the Details

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

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)

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,

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