Managing Volunteers – Part 2 – The Role of the Volunteer Coordinator

Volunteers!  Take an employee and put them in a volunteer situation and you have a whole different persona to deal with.  In this series of postings we are taking a look at what makes volunteers tick, what motivates them, and how you can create an environment that allows your volunteers and your organization to shine.

The previous posting was about Why People Volunteer.  In this post we will address the role of the Volunteer Coordinator.

The volunteer coordinator should be someone who is organized, can lead people, and has a special talent for being kind and courteous to every volunteer.  They need to know how to delegate and share their plan with others.  There should be plenty of people to get the work done.  The coordinator’s job is to coordinate the workers, not to do the work themselves.

1.     Set Appropriate Expectations for Time Commitments

Clock - what everWhat typically happens in a volunteer situation is that a couple of people end up doing almost all of the work, almost all of the time.  When others are looking to volunteer, they take a look at the situation and see that volunteering clearly means putting in a ton of time and effort, as that is the example they see.  Most are not ready to jump in with both feet and make a huge time commitment.  They can’t see that there might be other ways to volunteer and still be useful.

Although there are those that want to be a part of the organization by giving consistently and often, I have found that most people are willing to give of their time and talent, as long as it is more or less on their terms.  What does that mean?  It means that they get to decide if a particular opportunity fits their schedule.  They don’t want to be committed to every week, every month, or (heaven forbid) every day.  They want to have the flexibility to go away on vacation, see the kids in a play, sleep late, or simply not be ‘working’ during an event.  If you ask them to commit long term, they will head for the hills, and you will lose your largest pool of people to ask for help.

It is important to make it clear that there are many ways to help and not all of them require large commitments of time.  If you present an opportunity to a prospective volunteer with clear boundaries and expectations, they can decide if they want to accept it.  It is better to say, “We need someone to help us on Thursday between 1 and 2 to clean up after the lunch” than to say, “Would you like to help out with the annual lunch?”  By being specific, the prospective volunteer knows how long it will take, when they need to be there, and what they will be doing.  If they are willing to do more than you ask, they will let you know.

2.     Provide a Framework

Putting together a plan ensures that you know how many people you need for each task, what the numerous tasks will be and how long they will take.  A plan is also something that can be shared with others.  It makes an event or day to day operation run smoothly.  Volunteers like to know where they fit into the big picture.  They like to know what is theirs to do.

There are plenty of events that are run on the most minimal of a plan.  The better that plan, the better your chances are of not only having a successful event, but of getting your volunteers to come back again next time.

3.     Create a schedule and be ready to adjust it as needed

As the volunteer coordinator, you may find yourself saying, “Darn those volunteers!   If they would just sign up for a consistent time over the next year, my job would be so much easier.”  Yes, it would, but this rarely happens.  It is your job to ensure that all time slots are filled with volunteers.  This entails coordinating the volunteer talents with the needs of the activity.  It is also your job to continually check in with the volunteers to ensure that they are still happy with the job that they have volunteered to do.  Don’t let a volunteer burn out and suddenly quit.  Discovering that a volunteer is unhappy working every week gives you an opportunity to reduce their schedule and at least be able to utilize some of their time and talent.

Some volunteers like to work consistently and often.  Others are only willing to give time on a sporadic basis.  Be flexible with your schedule and with your requests to prospective volunteers.  I remember when my elderly mother took on the job of scheduling volunteers for her church thrift store.  She had a huge calendar on the dining room table and her job was to make sure that the store had coverage each day that they were open.  She knew that she had to have 2 volunteers for each time slot.  The best part was that many of the ladies liked to work a consistent schedule.  They knew that Thursday afternoon, for instance, they would get to go to the thrift store, work the cash register, and talk to whomever was there.

But… my mother could not assume that they would be available every week.  Two weeks before the beginning of a month, she would call every volunteer and verify that they could make their commitment for the following month.  There was always a slot that had to be filled with a ‘stand-in’.  This is where the opportunities were for those that wanted to give, but did not want to make a full time commitment.  By asking, “Would you be able to work on Thursday, the 2nd, between 10 and noon?”  the potential volunteer was able to see that it was a one time commitment, there were no other strings attached, and that they were truly helping out… not by just the work they would be doing, but they were also pulling the store out of a jam.  The volunteer also had the option to say, “No, I can’t do it this time, but please keep me on your list and call again.”

Putting together a schedule of tasks and time slots is your first job.  It is also an on-going job.  As needs change, as lessons are learned, as the talent pool shifts, the schedule needs constant tweaking.  Make sure to keep your eye on the needs of the organization and the needs of the volunteers.  Always be aware of how to have them working together.

Thank You4.     You can never thank them enough!

As Volunteer Coordinator, you are in charge of ensuring that the volunteers are shown appreciation.  If you have a lot of volunteers and cannot personally talk with each one, then it is your job to assign others the job of appreciation.  I have addressed appreciation In the previous blog posting.  The important point here is to know that it is your responsibility to see that the Thank You’s are indeed given out in an authentic way.



5.     Managing the process and the results

Happy volunteers and well-oiled organizations don’t just happen.  There is a lot of thought, process, and structure that gets put into having this happen.  As the manager of the volunteers, you need to ensure that:

Jobs are well defined.  The volunteer understands what they are being asked to do.  They know when to show up, when they can leave, and are trained to perform their duties.

Volunteers are communicated with before they show up for work.  This way they know when to come, where to report, how to dress, what to bring with them and what they are expected to do.

A point of contact is assigned.  When volunteers are uncertain about how to handle an unexpected situation, they need to know who to contact.  Make sure that it is clear who their contact is and how to reach them.

Appreciation is built into the project plan (for one-time events).  This typically happens after the event is over.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that the job is over at the end of the event.  You can have your Thank You’s ready to go before hand, but they need to be mailed or distributed after the volunteer work is completed.

6.     Coordinating with others in the organization

Volunteers span many areas of an event or organization.  As the coordinator, you will be interacting with people who are in charge of their own little part of the organization.  It is important that you understand what kind of volunteer help they need and when they need it.

If you are really organized, you can give the other leaders a structure within which to request volunteer help.  The easier you make it for them to get what they want, the easier it is to fill the volunteer opportunities and to make everything look smooth and easy.

Working with Volunteer Labor is not just about having them volunteer once, but it is about how to have a staff that is happy to be there, contributing to the organization, and wanting to volunteer over and over again.  As Volunteer Coordinator you have the ability to make that happen.

In the next post, we will address the topic of Volunteer Board of Directors.


Managing Volunteers – Why People Volunteer

Volunteers!  Take an employee and put them in a volunteer situation and you have a whole different persona to deal with.  This article is designed to look at what makes volunteers tick, what motivates them, and how you can create an environment that allows your volunteers and your organization to shine.

In this posting we will address the organization with “Volunteer Labor”.   In other words, the leaders of the organization are looking for the help of volunteers.  Without this volunteer labor, the organization will not function.

Part One – Volunteer Help – Ongoing Labor that makes an Organization Function

Helping HandThere are many organizations or events that count on the contribution of time and talent of volunteers in order to function.  They are unpaid labor.  They put in their time at the thrift store, the church, the 5-K Run, the charity fundraising dinner.  These are typically non-profit organizations who count on a community of volunteers to keep them running and serving their cause.

Our volunteers are so important, yet I remember talking to the Volunteer Coordinator at my church.   She told me that every time people saw her approaching them, they looked down at the ground and scooted away in the opposite direction.  They assumed that she was going to ask them to do something. To volunteer!

People are not opposed to volunteering and helping out.  Some are even seeking out volunteer opportunities.  Wouldn’t it be nice if, as the volunteer coordinator, people sought you out to ask what could be done, instead of avoiding you?  How do you get to be the ‘go to’ person, instead of a pariah?  Here are a few things to look at and consider for your organization.

Why People Volunteer

What’s in it for volunteers?  Why do they want to give freely of their time?  If we know this, then we can look at our organization and structure it so that we provide the environment, structure and rewards that volunteers are looking for (whether they know it or not).

  1. Volunteers want to see that through their actions, they have contributed to the purpose, mission, or goals of the organization.  It can be as simple as directing people on where to park at an event or as complex as running the sound system for a charity dinner.   If at the end of their shift they can realize that without them, things would have been confusing, chaotic, not brought in as much money or that they helped even one person, then they feel good about their contribution and are willing to do it again another day.
  2. Volunteers want to have their time well utilized.  Creating a framework and structure for your event or on-going work allows volunteers to know where they fit in, where they are supposed to be and when, and what they are being asked to do.  They hate getting up at 5:00 on a Saturday morning, to arrive on time at 7:00 only to find out that no one knows where they will be working, what they will be doing, or when they will get started.  Most don’t appreciate hanging out with coffee and donuts until someone “in the know” gets a moment to handle the volunteers.
  3. Volunteers want to feel that their contribution is necessary.  Showing up at an event and seeing that there are more than enough volunteers to accomplish the job does not make them happy.  If they had known that they weren’t really ‘needed’, they could have slept in or gone golfing.  Trying to get them to volunteer for something else at another time will be very difficult.
  4. Volunteers like to be thanked.  Yes, it is pretty simple.  Say Thank You.  Not just once, but multiple times while they are working.  For one time events, make sure to send out a Thank You card or letter afterwards.  The more personal, the better.  Knowing that someone appreciates their time and contribution goes a long way to having them volunteer again.  If it is an on-going schedule of volunteer opportunities, make sure to send periodic, personalized Thank You notes.  This ensures them that you do not take them for granted and realize that without them the organization could not function.  The group ‘form letter’ thanking the volunteers seems like a good idea, but I have found it to mean very little to the recipient.  They are just bunched in with everyone else and the true appreciation is not felt.  Annual appreciation luncheons or dinners are also great if you make sure that each volunteer is addressed personally at some point during the event.  Make sure that the person thanking them knows a little about how they contribute and can at least say one thing about how that helps the organization.

The first step in running a successful volunteer organization is to know why people volunteer.  Can you look at some of your volunteer experiences and see why you either felt fulfilled or like you would never volunteer there again?

In the next blog posting, we will discuss the role of the Volunteer Coordinator and how they can establish an enviroment that has the volunteers wanting to come back over and over again.


The Big Picture

Since the beginning of 2013, it seems as if there are just tons of new ideas and concepts coming into my awareness.  They have probably been in the marketplace for years now, but for me they are new.  It is so easy to get excited about the prospect of a powerful way to market your product or a new tablet that can help you to connect better with your clients.

Then comes “overwhelm”.  Yes, so much information and so many bits and pieces to help you, but where do you begin and how does it all fit into what you are trying to accomplish?

This is when I remember to go back to the Big Picture.  What are you really trying to accomplish with your business?  What are the boundaries that you have set up for yourself at this point in time?  Is it wise to stay within them or is it time to stretch them?  Will diving into something new distract you from accomplishing goals that you are working on, or is it just the thing to get you closer to them?

If you can’t see the Big Picture or you can’t remember how your goals fit into it, then maybe it is time to dedicate some time to getting more clarity around your business.  It doesn’t have to be a week-long process with charts and numbers and vision boards.  Half a day, with the right focus can give you a clear picture of your business structure and where you want to take your business.

I am always striving for simplicity and clarity in my life and in my business.  Remembering the bigger picture and my purpose help me to keep the chaos at bay.  How about you?

It’s Christmas Time

It’s Friday before Christmas and small businesses are in various states of activity.  Some, like mine, are winding down, getting ready for the next year.  Many are in a state of hyper activity, providing products and services that help others to celebrate the season.

Your perception of the holiday season and how your business contributes to it can make the difference between joy and exhaustion.  If you and your employees are super busy providing gift baskets, specialty foods, decorations or the like, how is your attitude?  Are you complaining that you are just too busy?  Sounds like a silly question (because who would complain about having a lot of business?), but take a moment to notice the words that you are using.  Do you say things like “I will be glad when the holidays are over”, or “It is just too crazy”?  Are your employees bemoaning how hard they are working?

Instilling an atmosphere of joy can make all of the difference in the world.  How do you do that?  Remember and remind your employees of the purpose of your business, especially at this time of year.  When we know that we are contributing to the joy of others, making their lives easier, and touching their lives in a big or even small way, we look forward to going to work and being a part of the excitement.  We naturally extend enthusiasm and gratitude when we are in a state of contributing to others.  It makes their experience with our business more pleasurable, which translates into future business and more income.  Not to mention that everyone around us is happier!

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.  It is a wonderful time to remember the joy in our hearts and how easy it is to share that joy with all of those around us.

With great Joy,



Are You Ready for a Month Off?

Ah, a month off from our business.  Sometimes that sounds so inviting.  As a solopreneur you may even have your business built around taking off a month sometime during the year.  You have a plan and you get everything ready and organized so that during that month you know all will be taken care of.

Could this be you?

What would happen to your business if you were unexpectedly not able to tend to your business?  What if the unspeakable happened and you found yourself lying in a hospital for weeks on end?  Maybe a family member falls ill and needs your help and you cannot pay attention to your business.  What would your business look like when you got back to it?

If you are the kind of business owner who appreciates their customers, respects their employees, and cherishes their family, then the thought of not having a plan for your unexpected absence is hitting you in the gut right now.

It is only fair to your employees to have a plan that can be followed in the event of your absence.  Saying, “They know what to do” is not a plan.  In time of crisis, having a written plan helps everyone to know what they are expected to do.  The plan ensures that the business continues to run as you want it to and takes additional burden off of your employees.

Giving your customers information and reassurance that their needs are going to be taken care of takes away the anxiety and uncertainty for them.  They will respect you for thinking of them and for building a solid business they can count on.  When you return to your business, they will still be there.

If you are in crisis, is it fair to ask your family to tend to your business matters?  Will they not have enough on their plate tending to you and making the family structure function while you are unavailable?

It doesn’t take much in the way of time or money to put together a contingency plan for an unexpected absence.  Why don’t we do it then?

It is so much easier to put it off, or ‘get around to it’ than to use our valuable time to install this piece of the business.  Constructing this plan is like buying insurance.  We hope that we don’t ever have to use it.   Each day that we ‘show up’ we have beat the odds and didn’t need the plan.

I invite you to think about this part of your business.  What would it take for you to build this plan?


Luxury or Investment?

I heard a story this weekend which got me to thinking about what I consider to be a luxury and what is an investment.

The story is about a woman who is looking to improve her business to the point that she has the money to be able to buy a Jaguar (the car, not the animal).  A wise person asked her to imagine that she has the Jaguar now and she drives it to the golf course. She gets out of the car and is going to get her clubs from the trunk.  A man pulls up and parks next to her, gets out and says, “Nice car!” and they start up a conversation.  During the course of the conversation they happen to find out about each other’s business AND that there is a possibility to work together.  They end up making tons of money due to their collaboration.

Now, says the wise person, imagine getting out of your Honda Civic at the golf course. You grab your clubs and give a smile and a head nod to the guy who just pulled up next to you.  End of story.

So, here we have an investment in a great car paying off in the form of more money with a bigger business.  Could this woman grow a bigger business if she had not invested in the Jaguar?  Probably, as she is pretty smart.  She might have to work harder to get there, it would probably take her a lot more time, AND she would not have had a Jaguar to enjoy in the meantime.  (By the way, financial advisers know this concept very well. Who do you trust your money with; the guy with the Mercedes or the guy with the Corolla?)

Was it a risk to make the investment?  Yes, a calculated risk, not a frivolous risk.  We do need to be smart about our investments.

I then relate this to entrepreneurs who invest in coaches and outside help.  Can they get where they want to go without help?  Some of them, sure.  For many of them, it will be a struggle.  It will most likely take longer AND they will not be having fun doing it.  Struggling is not fun and without help you get to struggle for that much longer.

I used to think that coaching and consulting were luxuries only to be afforded by those that had already achieved a level of success.  My thinking has shifted.  We all deserve to have help and support to get us where we want to be.  Why not get there faster and enjoy ourselves along the way?

Only you can look at your business and answer the question,  “Is business coaching a luxury or is it a calculated investment?”