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Sometimes Good People are Bad Volunteers

Posted by Amanda Cook, CAE on Jul 8, 2015 12:00:00 PM

volunteers-601662_640Hi, my name is Amanda and I am a bad volunteer.

The first step is to admit there is a problem, right? Admitting you are not good at something or less effective than you had hoped is a difficult task. In many situations, including volunteering, sometimes you have the best of intentions, but something happens and you can’t commit like you had planned. It has taken me some time to come to terms with realization, but it has helped me see things differently within my own organization and use that information to my advantage to better serve our volunteers. Here’s what I have started doing differently:

  1. Reminders. A lot of them. I know my organization’s volunteers are busy. And that’s just their professional lives. They also have kids, spouses, parents, competing commitments and all of the daily stressors you and I face. I tend to forget things that might not necessarily be top of mind. I appreciate an ever-present reminder. I even appreciate multiple reminders. About the time I get annoyed, I usually get it done! I have moved to more regular reminders and communication with my volunteers so that we can keep the conversation going.
  2. Interests. In the volunteer commitment process, I ask the individuals to offer up information on areas of interest or expertise. Not everyone is great at cold-calling, but they may be a rock star in drafting talking points. I try to find items on the agenda that fit their interest so they feel comfortable volunteering for that work. If they enjoy it or have a specific talent, they are more likely going to use it.
  3. Recognition. I know most organizations recognize volunteers for their efforts. Do you do it annually? What about finding a way to recognize people throughout the year? Highlight the work of a specific committee in an email to members, give committee members a shout out on social media, invite committees to an invite-only event or list a committee’s accomplishments on the website. There is nothing better than seeing your name in a positive light and it’s even better when your peers get to see it.
  4. Opt-out Option. We all have that one underperforming committee member. I’m not going to pretend that person isn’t me from time to time! Instead of allowing that person to flounder, give them the opportunity and ask if they want to opt-out of the committee. That individual may appreciate the opportunity to bow out gracefully and admit that he or she simply does not have the time or expertise to perform like he or she had hoped.

If you find many of your committees are underperforming or struggling to make progress on tasks, maybe it is time to reevaluate your system and adjust your expectations. Is there a way to freshen up the experience to get more done? Is there something else that could be done by a volunteer that is on staff’s plate? Look at your workload and review your volunteer force to see if there is something you can do differently to make the most of the efforts you have in your community.

Do you have a tip I didn’t mention? I'd love to hear your most successful volunteer management stories.

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Topics: Volunteers

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