by Meg Davis

One of the issues groups ask us about often is how to recruit and manage volunteers. Based on our experience (a lot of our work is done by student interns), and some manuals we consulted online, we are putting together a manual on volunteer management and posting chapters from it to this blog. Please share your own suggestions by posting a comment.


Building a Foundation

When you design a volunteer management system, you are building the foundations of new relationships. You don’t know where those relationships will lead when you start: some volunteers will drop out after a month, while others may become
involved for years and could eventually become leaders of the organization. One of the first things to think about, even before you meet the volunteers, is what everyone involved needs from the relationship.

You and your organization may need some or all of the following:

– More help getting work done

– A larger group of supporters and members to enrich and develop your work

– To empower members of your community to address their own issues and find their own voices

– A core team to help grow your organization

– A pool from which you can develop new leaders

The people you are asking to volunteer have needs, also, and they may be different from yours. Their needs could include some or all of these:

supportive community, a group of new friends

– A chance to do something positive and constructive in the world

– An experience of personal power

– A place to express themselves

– A way to resolve shared problems

– Work experience that could lead to other job opportunities

– New skills and knowledge

– To have fun

– A chance to explore and develop a different side of themselves

– A recommendation or introduction from the director of your organization to a future employer

Creating a volunteer system – and it should be a system, in which there are regular practices and tools you use that make volunteering somewhat predictable and reliable for everyone – involves thinking about and addressing all of these needs.

First and foremost, in designing your volunteer system, remember that volunteers will only give their time as long as their own personal needs are being met. If they are not, the volunteers will leave. Telling people that “you should be interested, this is about helping the community, you ought to support this work” will have no effect. People do not donate their time because they feel obligated – and probably, you wouldn’t want volunteers who only work out of a sense of duty. It has to be an experience that is empowering and energizing for everyone involved.

In order for that to happen, the organization has to create a structure that enables volunteers to be and feel successful.

For different organizations, this goal may be met in different ways. Some organizations just rely on volunteers to come in, do a few hours of collective but not very challenging work, have fun, be productive, and then go home. Other organizations see their work as movement-building and consciousness-raising, and they want volunteers to really contribute and commit on a deep personal level. Whichever your organization aims to do, you should still think about structuring the volunteer system so that people can get involved with a very minimal commitment, and then gradually increase their involvement as they learn and grow.

The stages to volunteer management are:

1.   Planning your volunteer projects and schedule

2.   Recruiting and hiring volunteers

3.   Orientation and training

4.   Managing volunteers and avoiding burnout

5.   Developing leaders

More on all of these to follow on this blog.

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