Tag Archives: management

I won’t help you recruit a receptionist/volunteer coordinator

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersRecently, I got asked if I would share a job opening at a PDX (Portland, Oregon)-area nonprofit. It was for a receptionist / volunteer coordinator. I responded:

I actually have a policy not to promote receptionist/volunteer coordinator jobs. Sorry. It’s a matter of my perspective about the importance of both positions.

It wasn’t the first time I had to tell someone this.

I will not promote receptionist / volunteer coordinator jobs. I will not promote receptionist / donor manager jobs, receptionist / marketing manager jobs, nor receptionist / legal council jobs. Not that I have ever seen those last three jobs advertised. Because such a combination of jobs would be preposterous. Just as preposterous as combining receptionist and volunteer coordinator, or volunteer manager, or director of volunteer services into one position.

I could write a long blog about why but, honestly, if you don’t get it, I just don’t have the time…

See also:

Civil Society Capacity Building: Why?

logoMy favorite kind of professional work is building the capacities of civil society organizations, especially in transitional and developing countries, to communicate, to change minds and to engage a variety of people and communities, through communications, dialogue and volunteering. But the term civil society isn’t used in USA as commonly as it is elsewhere, and many don’t understand exactly what I mean when I talk about my favorite type of work.

Civil society is a term commonly heard outside the USA when discussing community development. Civil society is a term for the assortment of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), nonprofit organizations, activist groups and institutions that, together, demonstrate the interests and will of residents of a particular area. Note, however, that these interests do not have to be the will of a majority of residents.

Civil society organizations include:

  • academia
  • activist groups
  • charities
  • clubs (sports, social, etc.)
  • community foundations
  • community organizations
  • consumer organizations
  • cooperatives / co-ops
  • foundations
  • non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
  • non-profit organizations (NPOs)
  • political parties
  • professional associations
  • religious groups
  • social enterprises (an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being)
  • support groups
  • trade unions
  • voluntary associations
  • foundations, government funders and international agencies have been supporting civil society for many years in developing countries. The goals with such support is to:
  • foster social equality (access to civil rights, freedom of speech, property rights, health, economic prosperity, education, social engagement, etc.)
  • foster civic engagement, including volunteerism
  • create a greater sense of ownership of what happens within a community by those that live there
  • create greater participation in addressing critical community and environmental needs
  • ensure a diversity of voices are represented in community decision-making
  • act as a counter to negative forces such as corruption, extremism, anarchy, etc.
  • ensure that civil society can work within the range of actors required for a country’s development.

This new resource explores why is it important for a country to have a robust, sustainable civil society, what is meant by the phrase civil society capacity building, and how capacities of civil society are strengthened.

Also see:

Capacity Assessment Tool for Mission-Based Organizations

This is AWESOME: a free NGO Capacity Assessment Tool. It can be used to identify an NGO’s or a nonprofit’s strengths and weaknesses and help to establish a unified, coherent vision of what a mission-based organization can be. The tool provides a step-by-step way to map where an organization is and can help those working with the agency or program, including consultants, board members, employees, volunteers, clients, and others, to decide which functional areas need to be strengthened and how to go about to strengthen them.

Sharing the results of using this tool in funding proposals and even on your web site can demonstrate to donors and potential donors the capabilities of your organization.

The tool was compiled by Europe Foundation (EPF) in the country of Georgia, and is based on various resources, including USAID – an NGO Capacity Assessment Supporting Tool from USAID (2000), the NGO Sustainability Index 2004-2008, the Civil Society Index (2009) from CIVICUS, and Peace Corps/Slovakia NGO Characteristics Assessment for Recommended Development (NGO CARD) 1996-1997.

EPF also hosts a clinic to support NGOs and the Georgian civil society sector, on the first Friday of the month from 3 to 5 p.m., and has a grants program for NGO initiatives in Georgia.

Also see:

Treat volunteers like employees? Great idea, awful idea

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersBack in 2009, the Volunteer Centre South Derbyshire, in England, featured one of my posts from UKVPMs (a discussion group for volunteer managers in the United Kingdom) on its blog in response to an article that says treating volunteers like employees is a great idea. I’m flattered that they thought my thoughts so worthy!

Here was the situation that I commented on:

In this commentary in the Guardian, the writer talks about a volunteer DJ at a small Christian radio project in South Manchester, England, who was fired when staff became aware that he is gay. The writer’s conclusion is that the employment laws need to apply to volunteers in order to protect them from being fired for no good reason.

Here was my response from UKVPMs (edited a bit for clarity):

On the one hand, I don’t believe in requiring volunteers to do things that staff are not required to do: background checks should be for everyone, not just the volunteers. The anti-discrimination policy of the organization applies to everyone, not just paid staff. Neither paid staff nor volunteer staff should be exploited or mistreated or neglected.

But on the other hand, I also come from the point of view that:

  • volunteering with a nonprofit is a privilege, not a right. I involve volunteers so long as it explicitly benefits the mission of the organization, and if forced to choose, my loyalty would be to the mission of the organization and those it serves rather than to a volunteer.
  • volunteers are human beings and should absolutely be expected to be treated as such, however, they are NOT employees, and therefore are not entitled by law to any of the same legal benefits of an employee.
  • volunteers are managed by a volunteer coordinator, rather than a human resources director, because volunteers are NOT employees.

So I read this article with a lot of empathy and sympathy, but then cringed at “Volunteers should be protected against unfair dismissal.” Legally protected? If so, legally protected how?

The primary consequence of an employee being unfairly dismissed is that he or she loses income. There are other consequences, but loss of income is the primary consequence, and we all know that income is necessary for survival. The laws that protect employees from being unfairly dismissed aren’t designed to do anything other than to prevent an employee from losing income and to restore an unfairly-treated employee’s lost income; the laws aren’t designed to restore anyone’s dignity or honor.

What would be the legal redress of a volunteer wronged? If a volunteer is granted the ability to sue regarding dismissal, what will the compensation be if whatever deciding body sides with the volunteer? Will he or she receive money? If so, say goodbye to volunteer involvement at probably most organizations; they aren’t going to risk that kind of financial expenditure. Reinstatement? The organization will be forced to involve the volunteer in his or her previous role? Does that volunteer then become untouchable, meaning the organization will have to keep the kinds of files, including regular evaluations, on volunteers that they maintain for staff in order to justify the disciplining, the requirement for training or the firing of a volunteer?

I guess in summary: I don’t ever want any volunteer dismissed for arbitrary reasons, I don’t ever want any volunteer mistreated or exploited, and I want us all to work to make sure that never happens, but I also don’t want volunteers to become employees, for a variety of reasons that I hope I’ve made clear (not sure I have).

And so I don’t really know what the answer is…

And I still don’t.

A grassroots group or nonprofit org = disorganization?

logoThree comments I received or read in the last few weeks via email or social media:

As a nonprofit, we can’t always make updates and changes to our web site quickly…

As an all-volunteer organization, we won’t be able to do much marketing for this event…

We haven’t replied to people that have posted on Facebook saying that they want to volunteer because we’re an all-volunteer movement and we’re progressing methodically…

Being a nonprofit, or being an all-volunteer organization, or being a grassroots group organizing a march, has nothing to do with a group or organization’s ability to:

  • make simple changes to its web site
  • market an event
  • provide quality customer service
  • have an up-to-date list of the board of directors or senior staff on the web site
  • say on the web site what volunteers do at the organization and how to express interest in volunteering
  • say on the web site what the organization needs in terms of volunteer support
  • respond to emails in a timely manner
  • refer all phone calls and emails to the appropriate person immediately
  • quickly reply to every person who wants to volunteer, even with a simple message that says “you will hear from us in the next two weeks with next steps”

Legitimate reasons for not doing those things is because the organization or group:

  • is suddenly and severely understaffed (mass staff walk out, mass layoffs…)
  • has other immediate, urgent priorities in that specific moment (building burning down, death of a client, etc.)
  • is inefficient
  • is disorganized

If you have ever wondered why so many people from the for-profit sector think nonprofits are incompetent, that people that work at nonprofits aren’t experts, this is why: because we use our nonprofit status, or our volunteer staffing, as an excuse for not being able to do the basics of customer service, management and marketing.

My reaction to someone who says As a nonprofit, we can’t always make updates and changes to our web site quickly… or As an all-volunteer organization, we won’t be able to do much marketing for this event… is this: maybe you should dissolve your organization, or seek new leadership for your organization and its programs. And my reaction to anyone that says their group doesn’t have time to respond quickly to every person that expresses interest in volunteering is this: in fact, you don’t have to involve volunteers at all, and you should say so.

Yes, I’m talking to all you folks organizing marches as well.

When you get an email from someone asking why certain information isn’t on your web site, or why you aren’t updating your Facebook page, or why your nonprofit wasn’t represented at some event, here’s an idea: apologize to the person for not having the information or activity that you should have had, tell that person you are currently understaffed, and ask if he or she would be interested in volunteering with the organization to help you correct this. For instance:

Thanks so much for the email noting that we haven’t updated our Facebook page for four months, and haven’t posted any information about our upcoming event. Our marketing manager is currently on maternity leave, and we are looking for a volunteer to help us with social media management for the next four months. Would you be interested in helping us? 

Or

Thank you for writing about your frustration about trying to volunteer with your organization. People that want to volunteer with us deserve a quick response to their expressions of interest. Would you like to help us do that? Would you be interested in volunteering to help us quickly respond to people that want to volunteer?

Yes, I know, I wrote a similar blog back in 2012.

Also see:

Creating a Speak-up Culture in the Workplace

speak upMission-based agencies – nonprofits, non-governmental organizations, charities, government offices, schools, etc. – are often thought of as being in the business of doing good rather than the business of making money. We like to believe, therefore, that such programs are naturally, inherently good, righteous, even superior. We like to believe that, at such programs, everyone – employees, consultants, volunteers and program participants – is on the same page when it comes to honest practices and integrity.

However, the reality is that such agencies are run by humans, and humans suffer lapses in ethics, common sense and judgment. Humans are fallible and, therefore, mission-based organizations are fallible.

I don’t know of many nonprofits or government programs that make ethics a written, central priority to their operational strategy. According to the Ethics and Compliance Initiative, research shows that such a practice can reduce misconduct “by as much as 66 percent in organizations with effective programs,” as noted in this article “Before the Whistle Blows: Creating a Speak-up Culture at Work,” from August 2016 in Workforce magazine. Yes, the author is talking about for-profit businesses, but I can’t imagine anything in this article isn’t also applicable, and essential, to the mission-based world.

The subtitle of the article is “Creating an environment in which employees feel empowered to speak up when they suspect wrongdoing starts at the top.” I would love to go to an entire workshop on this subject, and see such workshops offered at any and all conferences for managers of volunteers and conferences regarding any kind of nonprofit management.

From the article:

Creating a “speak-up” culture puts a premium on ethical decision-making across the board with responsibility shared by all. But setting the tone and promoting that culture rests squarely on the shoulders of organizational leaders. Their endorsement and modeling create an atmosphere of openness and trust that reassures employees who are understandably anxious about coming forward, whether out of fear of being let go or fear of being ostracized. Leaders who take employee concerns seriously and follow through send a strong message about integrity.

That should be a wake-up call to all senior staff at mission-based organizations. How many of you have communicated your views to your staff regarding ethical behavior?

The heart of how to create such a speak-up culture is this, at least IMO:

Make sure that managers and supervisors receive thorough training in how to respond to and guide employees who come forward. These sessions may also expand to include full team training with hypothetical scenarios or case studies. Simultaneously, the organization ensures that the ethics and compliance policy is clear on how violations are identified and acted upon. Employees must know what constitutes misconduct within the organization and at what point it should be reported. From there, employees need to know the methods available for speaking up. A high quality ethics program will have multiple methods for reporting concerns.

The profound failures at Penn State to address reports of suspicions of crimes against children and to warn people if their safety might be threatened, all regarding former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, convicted of child molestation while working at Penn State, should give every organization pause. There was no “speak up” culture at Penn State, and not just within the athletic program. I remain flabbergasted as I read about the case – and I read extensively about it – that people did not report what they saw, or if they did report, those who received the information did not act appropriately about it. And I wish I could say it was the exception, but I quiz organizations about their reporting procedures regarding suspected misconduct and, more often than not, find they do not have such. Many will say, in their defense of not having any procedure, “Well, we haven’t had any problems!” And I say, “So far.”

Every organization is different in how it should set up methods for reporting suspicion of misconduct or unsafe conditions, for response to such and for follow-up. In addition to getting legal advice on how it should be done, creating procedures can be a terrific exercise for employees and volunteers – they will be buying in to it by designing it. But you have to create a trusting environment where participants feel comfortable asking questions and discussing sensitive topics, such as what they think they should do if they:

  • hear a client telling a joke that is racist or sexist to a staff member
  • have seen an employee, consultant, volunteer or client use an organization’s device and/or Internet access to visit pornography sites
  • know a staff member is taking equipment home without permission
  • learn that an adult volunteer frequently texting with an under-aged teen volunteer
  • suspect an adult volunteer at your organization is dating a minor he or she met through your organization

How will you create that trusting environment? That’s the subject of another blog.

Also see:

How did volunteers impact the 2016 USA Presidential election?

social cohesionIn 2012, I knew that President Obama was going to be re-elected because of the number of people volunteering for his campaign was far, far more than the Mitt Romney campaign. And I was right.

Four years later, I thought, like most everyone, that Secretary Hillary Clinton was going to win because, like President Obama, she had a far superior official deployment of volunteers, and management of such, than the Donald Trump campaign. She did, indeed, win the popular vote, garnering more than two million more votes than Trump and also receiving more votes than any person in the history of the USA for President except for President Obama. But she lost the election because of the USA’s archaic electoral college rules. Even with that popular vote win, however, the race was far, far closer than I ever expected, given the massive difference in volunteer numbers for the two campaigns.

PBS profiled the gap in the number of Trump volunteers versus those of the Clinton campaign in August, noting “the Trump campaign faces a jaw-dropping gap in the ground game: Hillary Clinton currently has more than three times the number of campaign offices in critical states than does Donald Trump.” As of Aug. 30, Clinton had 291 offices in 15 battleground states, compared to just 88 for Trump. Clinton was using a refined version of the data-driven, on-the-ground volunteering machine that won two elections for Barack Obama. “Trump, on the other hand, insists he does not need traditional campaign tactics to win the election, pointing to his overwhelming nomination victory achieved with a relatively small team and little spending.”

Then, in early November, FoxNews.com noted that, while Trump had far, far fewer official offices and official volunteers than Clinton, he had people acting entirely independently on behalf of his campaign, “an army of volunteers who began boosting his ground game, in some cases, before the professionals got heavily involved.” The outlet “talked to volunteers in five western states who were among Trump’s main source of on-the-ground support at a time when neither the Trump campaign nor the RNC had dedicated staff.” These volunteers were calling friends, hosting campaign parties, posting signs, sharing information on social media and registering voters, entirely on their own, with no official direction.

Volunteers who officially signed up for Donald Trump’s campaign, to help with phone banking, had to sign a lengthy, jargon-filled nondisclosure agreement that would prevent them from saying anything bad about the GOP nominee, his family, companies or products for the rest of their lives. You can see the entire contract here and highlights of the most outrageous parts of the agreement here. By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s campaign didn’t require phone bank volunteers to sign any sort of agreement – which was probably a big factor in her having far more official volunteers. And also by contrast, unofficial volunteers for Trump also never signed any agreement, and there was no organization counting them in the official volunteer rolls – they took their campaign action ideas from each other, not the campaign.

The reality is that this election was not won by volunteers nor volunteer management. In fact, a headline of one of my earlier blogs, Volunteers are more important than social media in Presidential elections, has been proven wrong by this election, as my blog before the one you are reading now details. Social media DID win this election. It proved an ideal vehicle for promoting misinformation and generating fear and excitement that turned into action. As I noted in my last blog, BuzzFeed reported that fake news stories about the USA Presidential election this year generated more engagement on Facebook than the top election stories from 19 major news outlets COMBINED – that included major news outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and NBC News, and on and on. And the majority of these fake news stories did NOT come from any campaign operatives; rather, they came from a man in Los Angeles who originally built fake news sites as a way to expose the extreme right, a plan that most certainly did NOT work. And these fake stories, most of which promoted Trump for President and made false claims regarding Hillary Clinton, were shared by millions of people via social media – independent, passionate volunteers who believed them.

What does this mean for the future of volunteer engagement in Presidential elections? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Also see:

Al Gore Campaign Pioneered Virtual Volunteering

Update:
Donald Trump might be more popular than you think, from Politico, Feb. 2, 2017

To Do List the Day After the USA election

The USA Presidental election is over in the USA at last. While not everyone is happy with the results, everyone is happy that it is over. It feels like it’s been going on for two years or more!!

This Presidential election has been contentious, controversial and very, very heated. I wrote in another blog about mistrust being rampant in so many communities in the USA and elsewhere, but the reality is that, fueled by this election, mistrust has seeped into organizations and families all over the USA: friendships have dissolved, many people aren’t speaking to various family members, and employees and volunteers may also not be speaking to each other because of what’s been said and done in this election, perceptions of the candidates and perceptions of the candidates’ supporters.

Strong feelings about the election and the issues it raised can poison workplace congeniality, kill employee and staff motivation and drive the exit of employees and volunteers you really didn’t want to lose. Maybe some of this has already happened at your nonprofit or government agency. You may need to do a number of things over many months to ease tensions, heal hurt feelings, reinforce your policies regarding workplace behavior and culture, and make sure everyone understands that the mission of your organization is always the priority while acting in an official capacity as an employee or volunteer.

You could:

  • Encourage departments to organize lunch together one day every other week, or do this for your entire organization if staff numbers are small, for a few months. You could introduce non-work topics for each lunchtime: recommendations for binge-watching, best classic black and white movies, predictions about March Madness, etc. Or have lunchtime trivia contests. The goal is to create fun, friendly, non-political conversations and help employees and volunteers again see each other as real people with real feelings. You don’t have to say why you are doing this – just do it.
  • Have a simple, fun contest for staff. For instance, ask them to bring in photos of themselves as babies or very young children, or in a Halloween costume, put the photos on the bulletin board in a common area and ask people to say who they think each person is. Or staff can bring in photos of pets they have, or have had, and staff can guess what animal belongs to what staff member. Or have a weekly staff award, like most tenacious, or most congenial, or person with a work situation that would make the best reality show. The winner could get a gift card. Again, this creates fun, friendly, non-political conversations and help employees and volunteers again see each other as real people.
  • Consider posting appropriate quotes in the break room that encourage humanity and kindness. For instance, from Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address: Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. Or this quote from Carlos P. Romulo: Brotherhood is the very price and condition of man’s survival.
  • Organize several activities over the course of coming weeks that will remind staff and volunteers of the mission of your organization, such as a Q & A with frontline or program staff, a video of clients talking about the difference the organization makes, etc. This is good advice anytime, not just after a contentious election.
  • Remind staff in various ways that, at your organization, people matter, and in the workplace, we need to take care of each other, we need to have each other’s back. Cite individuals in front of all staff that have demonstrated this, or any teamwork, in some way. Have a brainstorming session on what kinds of words your staff would like, ideally, to be able to say about their workplace culture.
  • Note in an all-staff meeting that your organization’s staff has the right and responsibility to ensure that the work environment is free of hostility aimed at employees, consultants, volunteers or clients because of protected classification, such as race or gender, and that there are federal and state laws that prohibit hostile work environments on the basis of sex, race and religion. It’s better to do this in-person, in a conversational tone than a memo, as it feels less like a cold command, but certainly, you can also send out a written memo as a reminder of what you discussed in a recent meeting on this topic.
  • Remind staff – employees and volunteers – that, in the workplace, political discussions should never interfere with work, should be avoided with clients, and among staff, should never be allowed to devolve into debates over race, national origin, gender roles or religion, as such talk could be construed as creating a hostile work environment, even by someone not participating in such debates but just hearing such. Remind staff that such discussions should not happen in the workplace and, instead, should happen outside of the organization. This may require a written memo to drive home the point if things are getting out of hand.
  • Immediately take aside any employee, consultant or volunteer who seems to be crossing the line regarding political comments and remind them in specific terms what they have said that is inappropriate and in violation of your policies. Take appropriate action for repeat offensives, including dismissal.
  • If your organization, as a part of its mission, is focused on issues that came up frequently in the election, such as marriage, immigration, refugees, veterans, safety, government transparency, women’s health, insurance coverage, etc., make sure all staff, including non-program staff, know where the organization stands on these issues and knows how to properly refer any questions or criticisms of such.
  • Be absolutely strict on senior staff demonstrating the behavior they want out of subordinates and volunteers in all of the above. If they aren’t walking the talk, all of the aforementioned is for naught.
  • Be prepared to say goodbye to employees, consultants or volunteers who cannot let go of hostility about the election and are letting such affect their work and the work place.
  • Welcome questions or discussions from staff about any of the above.

If you try anything at your organization, or are struggling with staff cohesion, share your experience in the comments below.

Also see

For Nonprofit Organizations: How to Handle Online Criticism

Survival Strategies for Nonprofits , a guide for nonprofits facing critical budget shortfalls.

Gossip’s toll in your workplace

gossipBack in March 2010, an article (registration may be required for access) in Workplace.com highlighted a study in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography regarding workplace gossip. It reviewed how rumors among employees about a company can dilute authority, can poison workplace congeniality and contribute to staff turnover, all of which can cause harm an organization without ever becoming public (external to the organization). The study is focused on paid employees, but, of course, its findings are important to nonprofits and volunteers as well. The study’s author, sociologist Tim Hallett, calls such gossip “reputational warfare,” and says that once a bad reputation has been solidified, justified or not, it usually sticks — often with negative consequences for the entire organization.

Employees and volunteers will always talk internally about how things are going at an organization, what they think the future holds, what obstacles they see facing the country, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that. But a misunderstanding, a small fear, an unanswered question or an observation by someone uninformed about a situation can turn conversations into negative gossip, layout the foundation for mistrust, conflict, and negative public relations.

Don’t try to stop conversations about the internal workings of an organization – those conversations can be important informal training for new staff and help you discover and address issues before they become full-blown problems. But do work to make sure conversations by staff – employees, consultants and volunteers – are fact-based and within the bounds of your confidentiality policies, and work continually to create a culture where employees and volunteers share their fears, questions and suppositions early with supervisors, without fear of retribution for merely expressing a fear or asking a question.

Gossip tends to crop up when there are voids in communication. Therefore, address fears, questions and suppositions quickly and regularly. Filling the void with information — about possible office relocation, promotions, layoffs, firings, conflicts with funders or partners, budget shortfalls, etc. If a situation must be kept confidential and can’t be shared with employees, consultants and/or volunteers — for instance, the reasons why a staff person was fired — then explain why such information is kept confidential, in such a way that employees realize that you will honor their personnel issues, positive or negative, in a confidential manner as well. If the information could be damaging to the organization if released too early, then say so, explicitly. If you should have released the information sooner internally, apologize to staff and talk about what you will be doing to ensure that information is not withheld again — or ask them how they would have liked the situation to have been handled.

If you don’t want to commit anything or everything to writing, such as in a company-wide memo, then meet individually with staff and volunteers, have the executive director or a senior manager address individual department meetings, and have all-staff meetings. Give employees multiple opportunities to ask questions and voice concerns about rumors that they have heard.

But how do you know gossip is happening? By having trusting relationships across the organization – including across an organization’s hierarchy. That comes from regular conversations, formal and informal, and by showing explicitly how feedback from staff is heard, how suggestions from volunteers does influence the organization, etc. And building trust would take several more blogs to explore…

In short, you must create a culture of faith and trust among your paid staff and volunteers in each other and in the organizational leadership in order to prevent damaging gossip. It’s much easier to create and sustain such a culture than it is to try to overcome “reputational warfare.”

Also see

For Nonprofit Organizations: How to Handle Online Criticism.

Feuds in the nonprofit/NGO/charity world

Some Truths About Volunteer Retention

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersI’ve been trying to draft a blog about volunteer retention… and then read the latest update from Susan Ellis and Energize, Inc. and her article said it better than I can say it myself. This is reposted online with permission from Susan:

SOME TRUTHS ABOUT VOLUNTEER RETENTION

Schools used to focus on the 3 Rs (reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic), but in volunteer management we have the 2 Rs: recruitment and retention. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been asked to speak on both in a single session! Apart from this request minimizing what it takes to do all the critical tasks of volunteer management, the real problem is that recruitment and retention do not mirror each other.

You can do activities to recruit volunteers, interview them, train them, etc. But you cannot spend Tuesday mornings “retaining” them. Retention happens when everything else is going right. It is an outcome, not a task.

One of the problems with retention is defining it. People often ask me what a “good rate” of retention is, as though there is some external standard for all volunteer programs. Of course there is no such thing.

The desire to measure effective retention is tied to the fervent wish that volunteers might stay forever! Turnover has to be anticipated and planned for (and I might mention that there is lots of turnover among employees, too). How realistic are your expectations for the length of time volunteers will remain with your organization?

Some volunteers leave because things have changed in their own lives…and you had nothing to do with it. People get married, have babies, move away, change jobs, become ill – that’s life. The only thing you can do is leave the door open for a possible return. A volunteer who is forced to leave for external reasons may be willing to remain involved as a trainer of new volunteers, as an on-call substitute in a pinch, or at least as a reader of your newsletter. If the person is moving to another city, might you refer them to a counterpart program in the new location?

Here are some thoughts to ponder:

  • Retention can only be defined in relation to the commitment made by each volunteer at the start of service. So your recordkeeping system should show the amount of time the volunteer promised during the interview and then, if the person stays to that point, you have “retained” them! Anything afterwards is additional.
  • Do you clearly state the minimum commitment that is needed from a volunteer to make the training period worthwhile or to be able to make a difference to the client or cause? (This may be a different amount of time for each volunteer position.) Then, when you interview applicants, do you discuss anticipated length of stay? If neither of these things happen, how can you possibly know what volunteers intend to do in terms of longevity?
  • If a lot of volunteers leave in the first months of their work, it’s a symptom that what they expected and what they experienced did not match. Recruiting and interviewing are the start of the retention process!
  • Is there a pattern to when and from where volunteers drop off? Does one unit seem to keep people happy for a long time while another unit has a revolving door of new recruits? Analyze why and problem solve the situation.
  • Who is staying? Are you keeping long-time volunteers or the best volunteers? These may not be the same people! Again, assess what is going on. If newer recruits or people with top skills seem to become disenchanted with the program, why? How can you re-commit them?

The list of reasons why people volunteer in the first place is very long. After time, however, the reasons volunteers remain committed to your organization distills down to four factors:

  • The work they are doing is visibly meaningful
  • They feel appreciated for their service
  • They continue to learn and grow
  • They enjoy it
  • Quite simple, really – and the outcome of a welcoming, well-run volunteer program.

This outstanding blog content comes from Susan J. Ellis, President of Energize, Inc. More of Susan’s wisdom via her amazing books and services. It is HIGHLY recommended you subscribe to Energize Inc.’s FREE Monthly Volunteer Management E-mail Update for more great stuff!