What is Volunteer Management?
The term "volunteer management" is familiar to all of us working in organisations involving volunteers, but actually defining it, or describing what it looks like, may not be so easy. This section looks at some of the common aspects of management and also what is specific to volunteer management. This section also attempts to answer some of the common questions raised by volunteer managers. Let's start by looking at what needs managing:
- The overall organisation
- Day-to-day activities
- The budget
- The people working there
- The material resources
- Internal and external communications and information
- Strategic planning for the future
Depending on the size and structure of the organisation, these activities could be managed by one person or a number of managers who in turn are managed by a senior manager. Good management means:
- Having a clear and understood mission statement
- Having a shared vision which sets out where the organisation is going in the short and long term
- Building a committed and skilled team
- Using all the resources available to ensure that the organisation achieves its aim and objectives
- Having an appropriate training, support and supervision programme for staff
- Ensuring there is adequate funding to achieve goals
- Responding efficiently and effectively to issues that arise
- Making decisions
- Showing leadership.
In addition to these, and core to volunteer management is:
- An understanding of, and commitment to, the ethos of volunteering and
- An understanding of what motivates each volunteer
If an organisation involving volunteers and the volunteer manager have an appreciation of these core values, then the experience for the volunteers and the organisation is more likely to be a positive one.
Knowing what motivates volunteers
Knowing what motivates someone to volunteer is important in assessing whether you can meet their expectations. For example, if someone says they want to volunteer to meet people, then the volunteering opportunity must involve working with others. Sometimes people can't pinpoint exactly what has motivated them so you may have to dig a little to check your opportunities suit. A volunteer's original motivation for joining is not always the same as their reason for staying, so it's always worth asking what motivates them to stay. This will help to alert you to new opportunities that these volunteers might like to try.
In order to manage volunteers effectively, you must:
- Understand why the organisation involves volunteers
- Know how volunteers fit in with the overall structure of the organisation
- Be committed to the involvement of volunteers
- Know what motivates people to volunteer and to stay
- Match the right volunteers with the volunteer opportunities
- Validate the contribution that volunteers make
- Build a team which values the contribution made by all members
- Ensure the efficiency of the service at the same time as meeting the needs of volunteers
- Deal with problems that arise.
It's a challenging task!
What is a Volunteer Management Programme?
Having a volunteer management programme in place is the most straight-forward way to ensure effective volunteer management. It is about having a system which manages the volunteer process; it's the way it's done. Regardless of the structures or size of a volunteer involving organisation, volunteer management generally follows the same structure (see graph).
Each of these tasks is detailed in the sections which follow.
When does volunteer management happen?
Volunteer management happens once an organisation has a volunteer. It doesn't require a set number of volunteers. The system above applies as much to an organisation with two volunteers as it does to an organisation with two hundred volunteers. However the amount of time and management required at each stage will depend on the type of volunteer opportunities and the number of people involved. For example, an organisation with two volunteer counsellors is likely to require more volunteer management time and skill than an organisation that has fifty volunteers painting a mural over a weekend. Equally, the extent of reliance on volunteers to deliver a service, regardless of numbers, will impact on the type and amount of volunteer management required. So, for example, an organisation which has recruited twenty volunteers for one evening to pack envelopes does not need the same management as five volunteers going on a week long holiday with children with special needs.
Each volunteer-involving organisation should aim to have a volunteer management programme suitable to its own needs. It should be detailed enough to explain why volunteers are involved and how tasks are managed.
Getting started is never easy and the idea of starting to draft your volunteer management programme can seem overwhelming. The following tips are intended to keep you motivated for what lies ahead. You, your organisation and the volunteers all benefit by having a volunteer management programme in place. The programme is essential in developing and maintaining a positive volunteer environment. Volunteer management is often about formalising what you are already doing. You'll be surprised how much you can write in an hour about what you already do. The size and detail of your volunteer management programme should reflect what you need at a particular time so don't be put off by the size of some of the documents you see. It doesn't have to be done as a single task. Break it into manageable tasks, based on what is needed most. Introduce, implement or use what you've agreed as you go along. Involve both staff and volunteers so that you know you are getting an overall perspective. And most of all be prepared to change as your organisation, its people (management, staff and volunteers) and its resources react to both external and internal forces.