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Volunteer Management and Environs

Volunteer Management and Environs
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    One of the things I spend a lot of time doing at my job in association management is getting volunteers to do things for free. Some people call it “volunteer management,” while other people call it herding cats. Still, the practice warrants some attention.

    Before we get started, let me explain why volunteer management is increasingly applicable. More and more, we’re seeing organizations shy away from traditional hierarchies. While this leads to more flexibility, it also puts the onus on individuals to contribute freely of their time while at work. Additionally, networking activities often revolve around volunteer activities. In my book, a volunteer is anyone who is willing to help you who isn’t obligated to do so. So knowing the basics of managing them is a good thing to know—and it will probably get lots more important in the coming years.

    In a nutshell, here’s what you need to know to manage volunteers:

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    Planning
    This is essential when working with volunteers. Lately, team-based styles and “agile development” have made the term a little icky. But you need to have at least an outline of what’s going to happen if you want people to contribute. Think about it: you have a couple hours a week to help a group with a project on a voluntary basis. The dude or dudette in charge says, “Will you do x for us?” Chances are, if you have time and know how you’ll do it.

    However, what if they say, “I was wondering if you would kind of figure out what needs to be done. You could talk to whats-his-name and then we’ll meet about it in six months,” you might find yourself making some lovely hair-washing excuses to get out of the job. Krug’s book “Don’t Make Me Think,” though applied to website usability, applies in spades to the practice of volunteer management. People will help you, just don’t make them carry the world on their shoulders if they’re not interested.

    Recruitment
    Recruitment is the simplest part. If you’re involved in something worthwhile and you make people feel useful, they will volunteer. If you’ve got a problem getting people to volunteer, here are some things that you can work on:

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    Did you actually ask? Surprisingly, people from all kinds of organizations could have volunteers out their ears if they would walk up to someone and say, “we need x, will you do it?” Try not to be shy about it. If the person isn’t interested they will tell you. But more often people will step up to the plate.

    Are you being a martyr? I’ve found that sometimes leaders, having been in place for a long time, identify unhealthily with the position. They then say the right things about wanting to step back but they do subconscious (benefit of the doubt) manipulation and never actually empower anyone to take over. The people who are being sort-of asked to volunteer realize they are sort-of being asked and decline, quite reasonably. So, if you are a martyr, take a deep breath and let go. If your organization is being run by a martyr, realize that fact and work with it. If people realize what’s going on, then this situation can be worked through.

    Not enough stakeholders, period? You have to have a certain core group in order to have enough volunteers to do anything. Voluntarism is an interesting statistical function, driven by self-selection—a small group of people do the work for the larger group (as indicated by the STP phenomenon: Same Ten People). If you don’t have enough people to generate the pool of volunteers, adjust your standards and do less. You’ll thank me for it.

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    Orientation and Training
    Volunteers have to know what they’re doing. They are not typically dumb or lazy, although we see that kind all over, don’t we? No, volunteers have very limited time. Remember, these people have 2.5 kids, a dog, and a business trip twice a month. So, they need to know, upfront, what you’re asking them to do.

    Some of the volunteer literature talks about having forms and policies, yada yada and blah blah blah. I take a minimalist approach on the forms and so forth. But you should make sure people know what their job is, and where it stops and ends boundary-wise, and what the timeframe is. If the job is simple and involves simple tasks, tell them. If it’s more complex and you need them to do some judgment calls, tell them that as well. As long as we all know, everything goes much more smoothly.

    Supervision and Evaluation
    I have to tell you about this one, although it could have some negative overtones. Basically, though, it’s very helpful. The leader—and remember this can be delegated—should sit down regularly (or telephone or IM) with the volunteer. Refer back to the agreements everyone’s made at the beginning, and just maintain singing from the same hymnsheet. That’s it. If you integrate regular debriefs, things will get lots better for everyone.

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    And finally…

    Recognition
    Remember, a volunteer doesn’t get paid with money. But they obviously need some kind of remuneration. Usually interaction with others, gaining important contacts, doing good in the world, these are things that make volunteers tick. But it’s important to give awards, praise people, give thank you notes, small things that help keep morale up when you’ve stayed up till 2 am preparing a committee report.

    These steps should help everyone with their volunteer activities, whether a leader or a volunteer, or both! Feel free to let me know in the comments what your experiences have been with volunteering–and what makes you volunteer or quit a group for whom you have volunteered.

    Nick Senzee works for a professional association in metro Washington, DC. You can find him online at Nick’s Book Blog.

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    Last Updated on October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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