Archive for June, 2010

How to Make a Leader out of a Volunteer

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

volunteer screening blogNow is a great time for recruiting top-quality volunteers. With the employment picture (unfortunately) remaining less than rosy, management-level talent is finding its way to more nonprofit organizations (NPOs) than ever before.

Whether you find yourself as a volunteer manager trying to tap into these new volunteers’ developed skills, or helping other volunteers develop their leadership skills, you’ll probably find a core leadership group can be quite an asset to your organization, with growth and sustainability not far behind.

How to Identify Potential Leaders
Analyzing volunteers as they work, as well as their skill set coming in, is the best way to determine if they’ll make a good leader. Make sure your volunteer application is set up to gather information like work experience, education level, areas of expertise, specific skills and areas of interest. Also, the application should give potential volunteers the opportunity to express themselves by asking open-ended questions. This way, you can judge communication skills.

What Qualities Do Leaders Possess?
Reliability: Volunteers who show up when they say they will, on time and ready to work their tasks, are potentially the dependable type of leader you want. Other volunteers will not follow a leader who they cannot depend on.

Natural Leadership: Watch your volunteers to see who exhibits natural leadership qualities. Teaching others, listening well, performing duties without much supervision, and a positive outlook are all traits that leaders possess.

Team Players: Leaders are seldom the loner type. They enjoy being around people, and others are naturally drawn to them. Often, leaders have groups that tend to gather around them at every event. If you have a volunteer like this, you’d better take advantage of their charisma and ability to attract more people to their cause!

After you Identify a Leader
Conduct an informal interview with all volunteers who posses the leadership skills you want. Ask how they see themselves contributing and growing with your organization. Identify the leadership qualities you see, and ask if they are willing to take on a leadership position. Have the new job description ready to clearly communicate expectations. You might be surprised to see how enthusiastic your new team leaders are!

Follow Up
Give your new leaders plenty of time to become accustomed to their advanced duties. Don’t pile on too much at once. And follow up often to see how they’re doing, what questions they have, and what assistance they need. If it’s not going as well as expected, cut back on their responsibilities and see how they handle a reduced workload.

When it comes to advancing volunteers to leadership positions, easy does it. You don’t want to scare anyone away, but rather bring them closer to help achieve your organizational goals.

Count on for your volunteer prescreening services. Protect your staff, clients, and your community with background checks.

Why Volunteer Managers are Vital

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

volunteerscreeningblog.comLast week’s Volunteering in America report showed an increase of 1.6 million in volunteers serving in 2009 versus 2008. Managing all these volunteers—new and old—is the job of a volunteer manager or volunteer coordinator.

During the economic downturn, non profit organizations (NPOs) all over the U.S. have had no choice other than cutting staff to stay viable; many volunteer managers and volunteer coordinators have seen their positions eliminated.

Since volunteering is increasing, it makes sense that a position to recruit, train, and retain the right volunteers would be a high-priority position at most NPOs.

What does it take to be a successful volunteer manager?
Planning: Assessing the needs of the organization and the numbers and types of volunteer positions needed to meet those needs is key.

Goal Setting: Often, state and federal mandates must be met to receive funding. Setting goals for volunteers and comparing to actual outcomes is often the only way to keep funds coming in.

Defining Roles: Volunteers need to know why they are there, what is expected from them, and how they’ll know when they’ve been successful. Volunteer coordinators determine what work needs to be done, and ensure a safe, qualified volunteer is in each position.

Acting as liaison between staff and volunteers: This is a tricky and important task. Volunteer managers work with paid staff to encourage their support of volunteers, make sure communication is clear, and that toes aren’t stepped on.

Recruiting: Finding volunteers can be an endless job, depending on the size of the organization. Good volunteer coordinators always have their eyes and ears open for “new blood” to replace volunteers who quit, move, or want short-term commitments. Creative thinking is a big part of successful recruiting.

Volunteer Screening: It’s vital to have one knowledgeable person in place who can ensure the safety of clients, staff and other volunteers by screening volunteers’ backgrounds.

Placing: Matching the right volunteer to each position is vital to keeping him or her happy, productive, and retained.

Following Up: Constant check-in with individuals who’ve shown interest in volunteering but haven’t signed up, current volunteers, and former volunteers is a big part of successful volunteer management—and it takes time.

All of these factors point to the need in most NPOs for a dedicated volunteer manager or volunteer coordinator. Especially when times are tough, a volunteer manager saves an organization time and money by helping things run more smoothly with fewer paid staff.

Report Says Volunteering Up in 2009

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

volunteer screening blogThe Volunteering in America report was just published by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Its   2009 findings contain good news: despite the economic downturn, when non profit organizations (NPOs) were especially vulnerable (many on the verge of collapse) volunteers came through in higher numbers. In fact, the increase in volunteers serving in 2009 versus 2008 was 1.6 million! That’s the largest single-year increase since 2003.

  • The rate of volunteering was up to 26.8% from 26.4% in 2008
  • 8.1 billion hours of service were given by 63.4 million volunteers
  • Total estimated dollar value of services volunteered: $169 billion,

Interestingly, the huge increase was because women, married individuals, and people working full-time volunteered in larger numbers than before. The biggest group increase was the full-time worker, so it seems that Americans answered the call to serve, even though their own economic situation might have been affected by the recession.

Women continue to volunteer at higher rates than men—in fact working mothers have the highest volunteer rates. African Americans are also increasing their volunteer efforts, up .9% from 2008 to 2009—and up 1.6% for African American women.

The four most popular activities for volunteers:

  • Fundraising 26.6%
  • Collecting or distributing food 23.5%
  • Providing labor or transportation 20.5%
  • Tutoring or teaching 19%

For the fifth straight year, Utah topped the list of volunteers by state:

  • Utah 44.2%
  • Iowa 37.8%
  • Minnesota 37.5%
  • Nebraska 37.4%
  • Alaska 37.3%

The Corporation for National and Community Service and the White House launched a huge volunteer-recruiting effort, including the website, to make it easier for individuals to find volunteer opportunities in their communities.

The Corporation for National and Community Service is a federal agency that hosts a comprehensive website at The Volunteering in America report is a partnership between the Corporation for National and Community Service, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Bureau for Labor Statistics. At, you can find loads of data and detailed information about volunteer activities in all 50 states and 200 metro areas.

Great Ideas to Show Volunteer Appreciation

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

volunteer screening blogOur previous volunteer retention post touched on an important aspect of keeping volunteers happy and productive—give them recognition and appreciation more often.

If you’re like many volunteer managers, you are always searching for creative—and inexpensive—new ways to recognize your volunteers. Whether you’re tiring of the standard “thank-you” banquet, or you just need some quick and easy ways to demonstrate your appreciation, here are several ideas that might just work for you!

Go beyond doughnuts: Sure, picking up doughnuts or bagels on your way into the office is pretty easy—and it’s always welcomed by staff and volunteers, right? Well, considering how many of them could be on gluten-free, sugar-free or weight-loss diets, maybe not. As an alternative, try stopping by your grocery store’s salad bar, and create a nice platter of fresh fruit and vegetables. Most everyone loves strawberries in spring and melon in summer, and it’s a healthy, sweet treat that won’t break anyone’s dietary restrictions. And they’ll know you appreciate them, too!

Give a book: As an alternative to plaques, why not give a gift that will be used and enjoyed, rather than gathering dust? A book that mirrors your nonprofit organization’s mission, interest, or purpose will bring even more meaning. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Historical organizations:   America’s Historic Places
  • Animal Welfare:    The Art of Racing in the Rain
  • Social Services:    The Women of Hull House
  • Volunteering in general:    Chicken Soup for the Volunteer’s Soul
  • Education:    Three Cups of Tea

Keep it Relaxed: Instead of a formal affair at an expensive venue, throw a casual volunteer thank-you party at your house—or one of your board member’s homes. Fire up the Bar-b-Que, order a simple meal from a wonderful caterer, or prepare some homemade soups and breads. If you have a specialty dish you can prepare, even better—the personal touch and effort will not go unnoticed by your volunteers. Just give everyone the opportunity to relax and socialize in an informal setting.

Who needs sun? Bring a day of sunshine to the office in the middle of winter. Party stores usually stock beach-theme favors, so pick up a bunch of sand pails and fill them with goodies. Inexpensive sunglasses, bottles of bubbles, Frisbees, and water squirters, plus an ice cream sundae bar are sure to bring out the kid in all your volunteers.

And in addition to these great ideas, here’s another—and it’s the most effective, least expensive one: be sure to say “thank you” often and loudly to each and every volunteer.

Tips for Volunteer Retention

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

volunteer retentionMost volunteer managers want good volunteers to stick around. But sometimes, life prevents volunteers from continuing their work with your nonprofit organization. Others move away. And then there are those volunteers who prefer to help for short-term projects at different times throughout the year. But for those willing and able to volunteer long-term, how do you retain them?

Volunteer retention starts with great communication—and that starts with the recruitment process. When both sides are clear from the beginning what the needs are, what the position entails, and what time commitment is needed, you’re more likely to retain the volunteer. There should be no questions about duties or hours needed. If your volunteer leaves because you indicated a maximum commitment of 2 hours a day and they cannot complete their tasks in that amount of time, you have a problem with process or communication—not retention.

During the interview process, repeat the job description for the available volunteer position. Assess their skills to ensure the volunteer is right for the job. Placing volunteers in positions that match their interests and abilities is an important step in retention.

Set aside sufficient time for orientation. Welcoming new volunteers and integrating them into the organization’s mission and culture is vital to a smooth transition. Show new volunteers where everything they need is located, and be sure to introduce them to all other volunteers and staff they’ll be working with. Let them know who to turn to when they have questions or problems.

Thorough training is important. Depending on the volunteer and the job they’re matched to, they may need little training, or extensive training. Try different techniques to see which are most successful for each volunteer—everyone learns differently. Ask for input and feedback to ensure you’re giving the volunteer the training they need, and that they are comfortable with their tasks.

Check in often. Informal chats as well as formal evaluations are a good mix. Especially in the beginning, ask new volunteers how they are doing, if they feel they’re succeeding at their tasks, and what help you can provide. Semi-annual evaluations will allow you and the volunteer time to review expectations, performance, and satisfaction. Provide constructive feedback and ask how you can better support their efforts.

Provide variety. Don’t expect a volunteer to enjoy the same tasks for a long period of time. Some folks like variety, so don’t forget to ask your volunteers if they are happy with their job or if they’d like to try new tasks.

Give recognition and express appreciation. You’d be surprise how many volunteers say they left a nonprofit organization because they didn’t feel appreciated! Tell your volunteers how much you need and appreciate their efforts. It will go a long way to volunteer retention.

Count on for your volunteer prescreening services. Protect your staff, clients, and your community with background checks.