How To Manage Volunteers

There are very few professions where you are required to understand marketing, communications, operations, finance and much more. Volunteer management happens to be one of those professions and good volunteer management can lead to better volunteer engagement, retention and overall impact delivered. This is why we asked our friend Rob Jackson of Rob Jackson Consulting to dive into the topic of how to manage volunteers. Enjoy!

Let’s start with some questions you might have on how to manage volunteers:

Can anyone manage volunteers?

Yes. But not everyone can manage volunteers well. Not everyone has the patience, the temperament, the interpersonal skills, the endurance, the resilience, the tolerance, the grit, the care, and the persistence to do the role, and do it well.

Isn’t it just the same as managing paid staff?

No. You may be a great manager of paid staff, but would your people still turn up and work for you if you didn’t pay them? Would they put in the passion and commitment without a salary? I’m guessing the answer is ‘no’.

Every day, volunteer managers around the world find and engage people to make the world a better place, giving them a great experience and getting them to come back and do more, all without the promise of riches or rewards for the volunteer. It’s not easy, but it is immensely rewarding.

Do volunteers need managing?

Yes and no. For any volunteering to be effective, it requires some structure and focus. In that sense, a ‘manager’ is important. But that doesn’t mean volunteers want to be managed in a traditional sense. In fact, most volunteers work in settings where nobody is paid to manage them, they are instead ‘managed’ by other volunteers. This is, in part, why we talk much more these days about leading, involving and engaging volunteers.

What are the best practices to manage a team of volunteers?

Managing a team of volunteers requires clear communication and an understanding of their roles and responsibilities. It's important to provide regular updates on the project or organisation and show appreciation for their contributions through recognition and incentives. It's also important to regularly evaluate and solicit feedback on the volunteer experience, being open to change and suggestions from your volunteers. An open and inclusive environment where volunteers feel welcome and valued is key to successful volunteer team management.

So, what actually makes a good volunteer manager?

Develop the right roles

We don’t pay volunteers with money, we pay them with meaning. They get a motivational paycheque from their volunteering, a sense of fulfilment, reward and satisfaction, rather than a wad of cash. That’s why creating brilliant roles for volunteers to do is so fundamental to good volunteer management.

If we bring people in to do boring make-work, then people won’t stay around. If we have given them things to do that make a difference and fit with their availability, motivations, and skills, then most of the hard work is done, sometimes before we’ve even recruited anyone!

Quick tip — Even many experienced Volunteer Managers don’t spend enough time designing great roles. Focus on this before you recruit, and you’ll save yourself so much time and effort.

Recruit the right people

Smart volunteer managers know that the problem isn’t having too few people apply to volunteer, it is having too few of the right people apply.

For example, if you want good listeners for a telephone helpline, you want to recruit people who are good listeners. If you want to recruit drivers for a transport scheme, you want to recruit people who can drive, and maybe even have their own car.

If you know what you want people to do, and you can recruit the right people to do those roles, then you’re onto a winner.

Quick tip — Seeking the right people doesn't mean we shouldn’t be open and inclusive to a wide range of potential volunteers. The more diverse your audience, the more likely you are to find the right people.

Give the right support

Once you’ve got your volunteers recruited, and they’ve started doing what they do, make sure you support them well.

What this looks like will differ from volunteer to volunteer. Some will want to be quite autonomous, others will want you to be more involved.

Whatever it looks like for you, make sure you are available and accessible to your volunteers. Help them solve problems, answer their questions, empower and resource them, and they will achieve things they (and you) perhaps never thought possible

Quick tip — Having a genuine concern for other people is a characteristic people value in their leaders. Make the time to build a good relationship with your volunteers, and your work will benefit.

Give good recognition

Recognition has two meanings. The first is what we usually think of, thanking people. The second is about acknowledging people as being an important part of the team. Good volunteer recognition does both.

So certainly mark Volunteers Week (1-7 June), celebrate UN Volunteers Day (5 December) and do the formal certificates, lunches, and award dos. Some volunteers love these. But also make sure you do the daily thanks you’s and the little things that might make them feel included, like inviting volunteers to staff meetings and sending them internal newsletters.

Quick tip — Whatever you do, remember that volunteers are all individual people, not one homogenous group. Know what thanks you’s work best for different volunteers and tailor your efforts appropriately. 

Consider using a volunteer management system

Volunteer management systems are an easy way to create a centralised database and reporting structure for your organisation. Track volunteer data, manage shifts, store documents and improve the overall quality of volunteer engagement within your organisation.

As a volunteer manager, it’s unlikely that you have time to manage the day-to-day operations of your organisation. Volunteer management software will help you optimise how you manage your volunteers help you achieve more together.

Quick tip - Head to our Charity Dashboard to find out some of the ways our volunteer management software is revolutionising volunteer management.

How to manage volunteers - a summary:

  1. Develop the right roles
  2. Recruit the right people
  3. Give the right support
  4. Give good recognition
  5. Consider using a volunteer management system

If you’d like to know more about how Volunteero can assist you in your volunteer management goals, please book a demo and one of our team will be in touch.

Book a demo with us to see how we are revolutionising volunteer management.

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