Rebecca Nesbit, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of nonprofit management in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Kansas. She researches volunteer management in public and nonprofit organizations.
One of the questions that I get most often from volunteer managers (or those who have been given the responsibility for coordinating volunteer efforts) is how they can get their supervisor or executive director to support their efforts at involving volunteers in the organization.
Many executive directors think that once they hire a volunteer manager they will no longer have to worry about the volunteer program. This is not true. Volunteer managers need specific, supportive actions from their supervisors or the head of their organization in order to make the organization’s volunteer program more effective.
Do you provide adequate resources for the volunteer program? Volunteers are not free. Beyond hiring a volunteer manager, the volunteer program will need a budget for supplies, communication, and recognition activities. At the very least, the action of giving a budget to the volunteer program indicates its importance in your organization.
Do you hold staff accountable for good working relationships with volunteers? Many executive directors believe that relationships between volunteers and staff at their organization are good, but the volunteer manager often knows differently. In many instances, especially when introducing a new volunteer program, staff might be reluctant or resistant to working with volunteers. (Look for a future blog article about employee reluctance to working with volunteers.) If the organization is truly committed to using volunteers, then working productively with volunteers should be part of employee job descriptions and performance evaluations.
Do you orient and train staff in ways to work effectively with volunteers? Executive directors often assume that volunteers can fit seamlessly into their organization, but working with volunteers requires a range of skill sets—interpersonal skills, communication skills, the ability to give feedback, managerial skills and time management skills. In addition, most employees do not understand what volunteers want and need in order to help them to be effective contributors to the organization. Staff members need training and orientation in these areas before being asked to work with volunteers.
What are the most frequent issues brought to you by the manager of volunteers at your organization?