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International Volunteer Managers Day - So What?

November 5th is International Volunteer Managers Day…So What?

Most professions now have a day that is observed nationally or internationally to recognize their work and to thank them for their contribution to the wellbeing or betterment of society. Volunteer Managers absolutely should be included and acknowledged. Afterall, can you imagine the chaos that might be involved in formal volunteering if there was no one appointed to recruit, screen, welcome, schedule, train, support, and thank volunteers? It’s no different than a private company not having anyone in place to look after paid employees. Volunteer Managers do similar work to Human Resource Managers, just in non-profit settings. Of course, some non-profits are large enough to have both a Volunteer Manager and a Human Resource Manager - but most middle-sized or smaller organizations do not.

Let’s take a look at some of the tasks of a typical Volunteer Manager.

Recruiting volunteers.

If volunteers are needed in a non-profit organization, the request gets sent to a Volunteer Manager. Often a Volunteer Manger will hear “lets just get some volunteers for that.” Sometimes that task is undesirable – often that’s exactly why staff members thought it would be great to assign it to a volunteer. Most people involved in their cause believe that everyone else is too (or should be) and they assume the enthusiasm for a particular volunteer role to be very high, making recruitment a breeze. The position will practically fill itself. Volunteer Managers then go to work challenging their colleagues to articulate what is in it for the volunteer? (it’s not a fatter bank account, so why exactly would someone want to do this for free?) Next, the Volunteer Manager will think about where to find the people who would benefit from sharing their time in this role, then it’s time to draw up a recruitment message, and market it to those very people.

Screening volunteers.

A Volunteer Manager must walk a fine line between welcoming all interested volunteers to their organization and making sure they are a good fit for the role. This is done through screening. Most people hear screening and think Police Record Check – and that’s certainly part of it – but only a small part of effective risk management. Screening also includes interviews, personal reference checks, other formal checks (Child Intervention Record check, Volunteer Agreements, Confidentiality Agreements, etc.).

Placing volunteers.

Not everyone who applies for a volunteer position is a suitable candidate. They may not be qualified or be able to commit to the role. This may mean they could be involved in a different position or maybe at a later time. Or maybe they aren’t a good fit for the organization at all – but they might be great for another role or another non-profit. A good Volunteer Manager cares about helping people to be involved in their community and understands that placing a volunteer in a role that is ill-suited to them will not have a good result for the organization, the people they serve, or the volunteer.

Training volunteers.

Usually a Volunteer Manager will design and facilitate an orientation session or provide basic training to volunteers. Often a volunteer’s direct supervisor will look after training specific to the role, but the Volunteer Manager will usually make sure the training is adequate to allow the volunteer to perform their tasks successfully – especially in smaller organizations.

Supervising volunteers.

Some Volunteer Managers are responsible for literally hundreds of volunteers. They keep confidential records of all volunteers in the organization and if they don’t directly supervise them, then they support the staff that do. They will usually check in on a volunteer to see how things are going and can act as a liaison for both the supervisor and volunteer, to make sure both are supported in their role.

Recognizing volunteers.

When you get thanked for your volunteer involvement – you can bet it was the Volunteer Manager who was behind it. Those little bags of sweet treats with some corny saying – was put together and distributed by a Volunteer Manager. The thank you card you got in the mail – a Volunteer Manager probably wrote it – or got the group together to sign the card. If they didn’t make the post themselves, they for sure requested that the communications team do so on their social media. Staff in non-profits certainly are grateful for volunteers, but it’s the Volunteer Manager who thinks about, and then implements ways to thank volunteers.

Evaluating the volunteer program.

Volunteer managers are always submitting reports to their supervisors, the Executive Director, and/or the Board about how many hours volunteers contribute and in what way. They ask volunteers to complete surveys, so they know whether the volunteers are happy and supported in their roles. Volunteer Managers will evaluate their programs to see where improvements can be made and continue with the practices that are working.

Perhaps you’re shocked at how much is involved in engaging volunteers in a non-profit organization. But here’s the real shock:

This is usually only ONE part of a Volunteer Manger’s role. It is extremely common for them to wear more than one hat and it is usually evident in their titles. Other jobs they perform include:

  • human resources

  • special event planning

  • fund development

  • community engagement

  • marketing and communications

  • ...much more.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for Volunteer Managers to have part-time hours or look after more than one site.

On top of all this: Volunteer Managers are typically underappreciated in their own organizations. They rarely have an audience with the decision-makers in the organization (the senior managers, Executive Director, or the Board). Some non-profits don’t even allocate a budget for the volunteer program. Volunteer Mangers are often on the lowest end of the salary grid in the organization, they aren’t recognized for the number of people they supervise, their work is important to everyone’s team, yet they are officially part of no one’s team, leaving them to work in isolation. There are few post-secondary programs for people wanting to go into the profession, and only a couple capacity building organizations dedicated to supporting non-profits and in Edmonton, only recently have they even focused their attention on Volunteer Managers. They (rightly) know that talking to Volunteer Managers about making systemic changes in the way volunteers are engaged, and even best practices in volunteer management is not the most effective way to make change – they know it’s better to talk to the Executive Directors as they are the ones who can make the decisions or at least advocate to the Board – which is ironic- as Board members are themselves, volunteers, but are often part of the problem in how they value (or don[‘t value) volunteers in the organization.

So, while having a day to acknowledge the work of Volunteer Managers is a great idea – it would be far better to really have their work valued all the time by the organizations in which they work. How?

  • Give them an ample budget for their program. Hire someone with adequate experience or relevant training or at the very least, budget professional development for Volunteer Managers so they can keep learning and connect with others in their profession.

  • Give them a seat the leadership table – include them in meetings and decision making.

  • Pay Volunteer Managers a fair salary. Demanding they have a specific Bachelor’s degree (that often has nothing to do with the actual work they’ll be doing), giving them several departments or areas to look after, then offering them barely above minimum wage, and/or part-time work is ridiculous.

  • Learn about their program so that when a staff member says “let’s just get volunteers to do that” they know what is actually involved in “just” getting those volunteers. Along the same line of thinking – once staff do know what’s involved in volunteer management, then trust the volunteers and treat them as equal team members.

So, on November 5th (International Volunteer Managers Day) if you work in a non-profit organization, I challenge you to think about your perspective on the person who manages volunteers in your agency.

If you are a volunteer, I urge you to send a Volunteer Manager an email, card, or note to say thank you and share how they’ve made your volunteer experience a good one. CC the Executive Director and Board of Directors to let them know how important the Volunteer Manager’s work is in their organization.

Simply put, in a non-profit organization, everyone is on the same team, including volunteers and Volunteer Managers. Once managers, decision makers and executive leaders fully realize that, Volunteer Managers will have a much better environment in which to do their work - which results in better experiences for all involved in the organization.

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