Seven steps to achieve effective volunteer support

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Starting a Volunteer Program? Here are seven essential steps to help make it a long term success.

1. Define why you need volunteers

Are you looking for volunteers to enhance the services that you provide, to strengthen your community involvement, to enrich your exposure to certain communities? Is there a genuine reason to use volunteers?

Every volunteer program must begin with an understanding of why your organization wants or needs volunteer support. Ensure that you have the support of your board of directors and senior administrators before embarking on a recruitment campaign. At the initial stage, it is also essential to establish desired outcomes for volunteer involvement. Establishing these outcome objectives early in the process will help to guide the types of volunteers that you recruit, and the way that you manage them once they have come on board.

2. Design valuable volunteer opportunities

By designing valuable volunteer assignments you provide volunteers with challenge and motivation for continued success. Lay out the responsibilities of each job. Plan training and support programs to facilitate volunteer learning and development, and ensure that volunteers are aware of the goals and outcome objectives for their involvement.

3. Recruit carefully

When you've designed your volunteer opportunities, target the appropriate audiences to recruit those who are truly interested in the project. Understand the characteristics of your existing team, and recruit volunteers to mirror this team. Be honest about the workload and time commitment involved in the project. Above all, ask for help but don't plead - you want volunteers who want to be there.

4. Screen, interview and place cautiously

Screening and interviewing potential volunteers facilitates their commitment to the organization or to the project at hand. It shows potential volunteers that you take both the project and their time seriously. Screening also gives you an opportunity to match qualifications and skills with your needs and the needs of your volunteers. An interview is also the best time to define availability and schedule activities that fit both the organization and volunteers.

5. Bring them on board with training

Comprehensive orientation and volunteer training programs give volunteers a feeling of belonging and status. It shows that your organization values them enough to make an investment in them and, again, helps to reinforce their commitment to the cause. Orientation also helps set the tone of the work area and allows volunteers to adapt more easily to the organization's surroundings.

As part of the volunteer training sessions, you should provide a general orientation to the organization, including a discussion of its mission and philosophy. Outline the organizational framework, and any codes of conduct that are enforced. Offer any project-specific training that is necessary to develop needed skills, and don't forget to tour the work area and point out the sometimes-not-so-obvious features like washrooms and water fountains.

6. Recognize. Recognize. Recognize.

Recognition programs show that your organization values volunteer support. They also provide a motivation for continuing commitment from your volunteers. Recognition should be both formal and informal, with events supported by the organization, as well as personal notes and communication. Don't forget to recognize volunteers publicly when newspaper or other media opportunities arise or when it's time to write the annual report again.

7. Follow-up effectively

A final element of a successful volunteer program is continual follow-up and evaluation. Effective follow-up provides feedback to volunteers and staff and opportunities to improve service to both. With a careful plan, and continual volunteer communication and training, it should be easy to evaluate your success and improve your program with time.

Based on a presentation at the 1997 Annual CCAE Conference by Diane Morrison, Vice President of Patient Programs at Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton, NB.

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