Best Practices in Volunteer Management from a Volunteers Perspective | Track It Forward

Best Practices in Volunteer Management from a Volunteers Perspective

Written by James McBryan

I’ve volunteered all my life, with the Humane Society, SPCA, Habitat for Humanity, Boys & Girls Club, you name it! I’ve also had many different coordinators and have my own personal thoughts about their leadership and the way they run the organization. However, I didn’t realize how difficult it really was to be a volunteer coordinator, until I became one myself. All of a sudden, I couldn’t get volunteers to track hours, to sign up for events, to communicate with me if they couldn’t make it to an event, and that was just the beginning of it. So I went to my good friend Google for help on best practices for volunteer management.

It was easy to find articles on the web about how to effectively manage volunteers. However, it’s something that not everyone would find easy to do. Managing volunteers is a hard job, yet rewarding. Volunteers are the backbone of your organization, so to keep them coming back, your management strategy and style is just as important to them, as the work they do. Now, I’m not just talking about the 4 R’s: Recruitment, Retention, Recognition & Resources. Yes, they are critical in this role, however, the way you treat the volunteers, the way you talk to them and in general, the focus you put on your volunteers is so much more important than you’ve ever thought!

If you want to achieve maximum impact as a volunteer coordinator, you need to make sure that you volunteers are having a positive experience and seeing certain aspects within you, your organization, and their own role. Download the free assessment below to see how your organization is being ranked amongst your volunteers.

Most articles you’ll find on the web about the best practices in volunteer management will talk about the process, the strategy, the implementation, the mechanics, etc etc. I agree with those points, however, there is a lack of talk about the personal touch. Maybe my passion comes from seeing so much turnover in my history of having volunteer coordinators, but because it’s so easy to gloss over, I’d like to spend a little bit more time on it by breaking it down into 3 key points. 


1. What does a volunteer want to see from their coordinator?

The way that your volunteers view you will be a big factor in determining if they stay or go. They want a leader that they can look up to, but can also grab a glass of wine or a cup of beer with at the end of the day. Volunteers are fired up when they see passion from their leaders that leaks into all other aspects of the organization. When you can lead by example, be organized in meetings, respond to questions in a timely manner, be professional and yet, are still able to know your volunteers personally, then they will know that you’re the real deal. You don’t have to be everyone’s best friend, but, if you gain their approval, you’re also gaining their retention. 


2. What does a volunteer want to see in their organization?

There are many organizations that volunteers can choose to go with, yet, they chose yours! The first impression is the most critical, yet, how it’s managed in the long term is just as important. If you’re looking to grow, you need to be open to a variety of ages, races, and ethnicities. However, the more diverse the organization, the harder it may be to manage. Yet, if you can establish a trusting environment where there is equality amongst the leaders and volunteers, that's a recipe for a healthy organization. Volunteers also want to see their work recognized and viewed as valuable and many of them want to seek out opportunities to grow into leadership positions. The more you allow your volunteers to take charge and delegate, the more vested they will be in your organization. 


3. What does a volunteer want to see in their work?

The roles and responsibilities that are assigned to each volunteer, will make a difference in your retention as well. It’s important to match responsibilities to interests and abilities. When they are enjoying what they do, they have very clear expectations, and there’s a manageable workload, your volunteer management process will work like a smooth engine. Don’t forget, however, if they chose your organization, they are passionate about the work you do. So the more you are able to show them their impact, the more motivated they will be to continue to come back and be a useful asset in your organization. 

If you haven’t done so already, download the free worksheet to measure your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to volunteer management from a volunteer’s perspective. 

Of course recruitment, retention, recognition, and resources are critical aspects of effective volunteer management, however, if you put a little more focus on the volunteer, they will help make your job so much easier! Imagine if your volunteers were inviting all their family and friends to join them at your next event without you needing to ask, or they were donating money because they saw the need with their own eyes, or they were simply recognizing each other for just a job well done. That kind of camaraderie will get you on the list of organizations to look out for with the best practices in volunteer management.