You know how the volunteer management cycle goes: you have a need for volunteers, you put out the call, then you recruit, screen and select some amazing volunteers. Then comes the ongoing challenge of supporting those volunteers in their new duties, not to mention recognition and retention. But you’re just one person; there’s no way you can manage, supervise and support all of the volunteers your organization needs to thrive! That’s where other staff plays an important role. Your organization’s program staff can serve as managers, coordinators, schedulers, supervisors and more for your volunteers — you just have to get them on board.
If your staff are managing volunteers in any way, it’s important that you have staff buy-in for getting involved with volunteer management. They also need the proper training and knowledge to make sure your volunteers are engaged, motivated and fulfilling their duties effectively. Here’s how you can give them the motivation and the tools to effectively manage and support volunteers.
In busy organizations like yours, employees may see volunteers simply as extra help who can do whatever they’re asked. Often, that’s a misperception; volunteers are recruited and engaged for specific roles with specific duties. You want your staff to know that volunteers have come to support your organization in a particular role, and that’s the role the volunteers are going to do!
When employees are told they may need to manage volunteers, they might immediately cite a lack of time or knowledge as a reason to avoid working with volunteers. Remind them of the benefits of volunteer engagement for your organization and the community, both in supporting your mission and also connecting with the community in a meaningful way. Don’t forget to highlight how supporting the volunteer will actually help them be successful in their own jobs.
You can also let them know that if they are supervising volunteers, they’ll get the right training to do so effectively. If they’re still not convinced, remind them that the supervisory skills they’ll gain from managing volunteers will be a great addition to their resume!
It’s important to prepare your team to work with and supervise volunteers with training. Start with some information about the volunteer program and share the impact of your volunteers’ work and successes. This helps employees understand the value of volunteers and also see the importance in their role as managers and supporters. Make sure to cover the important areas of managing and supporting volunteers, and include activities, including role playing, to give staff a sense of what’s in store when managing volunteers. Also, ensure there is plenty of time for questions as people management may be new to many of your employees.
If it is part of their job, staff will need to know a few things about people management. Remind them that volunteers have a variety of motivations that brought them to your organization, and among those it’s very likely they’re working with you to contribute to your cause, mission and/or community. Volunteers and employees are on the same team and working toward the same goals, so managing volunteers means guiding them toward fulfilling their duties.
Staff should also know that supervising volunteers shouldn’t take over their whole job; in your training, talk about maximizing their own workflow with volunteer management in mind and make sure there is a point person for all volunteer relations in your organization.
Management is often thought of as organizing, planning and coordinating activities and people, to make sure that every job gets done. But an important component of that is providing support when it’s needed. In some cases, volunteers might not have formal workplace training or may feel overwhelmed with aspects of their role, and may come to their staff manager for guidance. Making sure staff know how to support volunteers in these instances — and who to send volunteers to if they can’t provide support — will be useful to maintain positive relationships with volunteers. It’s important to set up boundaries between your volunteers and employees as well so that these relationships aren’t abused.
Sometimes it may be difficult to find the right training expertise in your own organization to ensure your staff are ready – and as volunteer managers, you may have trouble finding the time to make this happen! Work with your human resources department to find appropriate training opportunities. You might even consider engaging external speakers, including trainers from Volunteer Toronto, to work with your staff.
It's important to remember that your success as a volunteer manager involves more than just yourself and the volunteers you recruit. Bringing staff on board with managing, supervising and supporting volunteers will help your organization thrive with an even stronger volunteer program.
Sammy Feilchenfeld is the Training Coordinator at Volunteer Toronto, Toronto’s volunteer centre. Working with volunteer managers and coordinators from Toronto’s voluntary sector, Sammy develops and delivers in-person, on-demand and online training on a variety of volunteer management topics and trends.