Friday, June 24, 2011

7 Ways to Take Care of Your Volunteers


It's volunteer recruitment season for me, as I get the Teaching Teams and Assistants and then folks for special programs all lined up for Fall. When I first took on this job as DRE, this was the task that actually worried me the most - it looked so miserable to always be searching for volunteers and being told No.

But actually, I enjoy finding and working with volunteers, and I hope that it's working pretty well - I have a good retention rate of teachers coming back and I've got all my Teaching Teams staffed for next year already. Now Assistants - that will be my next push.

But here are 7 things I've learned so far about taking care of volunteers:

1. The Pitch. You have to pitch the job to them, and most people will wait to be invited. In our busy lives, it's important to be honest in your pitch. Exactly how much time, energy, and responsibility are we asking from them? How will they be supported and trained? How will it fit in their schedules? And WHY? Presumably, you enjoy working in the field you are recruiting volunteers for, so tell them why you do it - what are the joys, the rewards, but also the honest challenges of this work? Highlight the main job, but also talk about ancillary rewards, such as a feeling of belonging, contributing, making new friends, learning new things, etc.

2. Prepare Them. No one enjoys the feelings of panic, incompetence, or inadequacy that come from being thrown into a situation without enough preparation. On the other hand, people do enjoy a challenge, learning new skills, or developing their skills in new ways. People enjoy feeling needed. If the volunteer training, preparation, and support are good enough, the volunteers feel all the latter things and not the former. I'm still working on improving my teacher trainings and mid-year meetings, but other things are pairing new with experienced volunteers, clearly labeling where needed supplies are kept, and giving people enough time to adequately prepare for lesson plans.

3. Set realistic expectations. Volunteers are not supermen or women. I don't expect them to prep all the materials for their lessons - for most people that would become too much of a time burden. Be real about what you are asking of them. If any job becomes too large, recruit more volunteers to cover it and break it up into smaller chunks.

4. Let them bring themselves to the task. I would find it stifling and boring if I could only do what others told me to do in a classroom, and many volunteers feel the same way. If they want to change up a lesson plan and do something else, that's fine with me. (I do ask that they email me so I know ahead of time and prep materials accordingly.) It's also nice to leave some aspects of a job open to the volunteers choice. For instance, a lesson could be begun with a song, some yoga, a drama game, or silent meditation, depending on the volunteer teacher's speciality.

5. Have clear schedules and send reminders. Once again, people have busy full lives. If you want them to take some time out of them for your program, make the calendar clear and send them a reminder a few days before hand each time they are on the schedule.

6. Be Nice. Ok - maybe I should have put this as Number One, and it can't be overstated. Who wants to volunteer for or with someone who isn't nice? There is normal nice, and then there are extra nice touches. If someone has just slept (or not) on the floor of your church in order to chaperone a youth overnight, and you are going to be waking them up in the morning, it's a lot nicer to wake them up with a hot cup of coffee in your hands. :)

7. And finally, Recognize them as often as you can. Put their names on paper stars on your bulletin board. Write a newsletter article praising your fabulous volunteers. Send them holiday cards, and birthday cards if you can. Have them stand before the larger organization or public acknowledgment. Throw a volunteer appreciation party - which also helps build community among volunteers so it's a double duty event. Give them small gifts. Send thank you notes (I aim for three thank you notes a week).

And that is my recipe for happy volunteers and well-staffed programs. What am I missing? What's in your recipe? What do you appreciate when you volunteer somewhere? What makes you less inclined to volunteer?

1 comment:

  1. I actually had a cot for the sleepover, so I did not fully earn the coffee shown above. I guess that is why mine was smaller. Kidding, I asked for the straight espresso and you delivered.

    You manage to be genuine too, and that is something I value most of all. It is easiest to help real people.