Volunteer Management and PB&J

Volunteer Management and PB&J

In April, Nonprofit Connect hosted Volunteer Management Institute, a three-day volunteer management intensive featuring volunteer management experts from local organizations like Wayside Waifs and Harvesters. Jamie Braun, Development Associate and Office Manager at the Charlotte Street Foundation, attended and shares what she learned from VMI here.

Guest Post by Jamie Braun, Development Associate and Office Manager at the Charlotte Street Foundation

What is the correct way to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? If you have kids, or have ever been a kid, I'll bet you have it figured out. Let’s move on to a tougher question: what is the most effective way to instruct a team of volunteers to prepare 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Will they know to wash their hands first? Might they wonder exactly how much jelly to use, where extra bread is kept, or who these sandwiches are for?

Nonprofit Connect’s Volunteer Management Institute clarifies that these are all highly important considerations. The admirable dedication of unpaid employees is the tireless steam in the engines of our organizations. Not only does volunteer management require an adept staff member to support this special work force, but it necessitates an understanding of how volunteers are recruited, motivated and encouraged. As an attendee of the April session of Volunteer Management Institute (VMI), I would assert that it is also extremely helpful to have access to a diverse, experienced and mindful group of facilitators who can guide you through each “course” of your organization’s relationship with its volunteers.

Structure and Recruitment: A single grape, a single peanut
Along with national trends and practical strategies, VMI taught me that it’s important to start volunteer management with some basic building blocks. Clear descriptions of volunteer roles attract people who love to prepare lunch the way that you and your staff do. You’ll also need a realistic vision of how volunteers can best fulfill your organizations goals, along with simple policies for volunteers to reference and follow. The gentle setting of expectations increases chances that those expectations will be met.

Orientation, Training, and Supervision: The bread that binds us

Volunteers want to succeed. They desire to be mobilized and to become incorporated with our missions. It is our job to empower them to do so. Investing the time to shape comprehensive volunteer orientation and training programs can have a huge impact on the infrastructure of our agencies. Orienting volunteers to understand where the bread is kept saves staff precious time down the road and makes volunteers both more productive and more comfortable.  Feeling properly trained and enabled ensures volunteer satisfaction and retention, and better achieves our common goals.

The VMI facilitators made it clear that our work by no means ends there. Continuing to nurture transparent communication with your volunteers is critical. Before entrusting them with the task of assembling said sandwiches, you must publicize for whom the peanut butter and jelly is intended. Strive to show your volunteers the impact of each action in relation to your constituents. Volunteers need instructions, directions, feedback and corrections. 

Recognition: Dessert

What goes better with peanut butter than Nutella? Volunteers also deserve genuine gratitude, generous praise and personalized recognition from your entire staff. Are you aware that Kansas ranks fourth in the nation for hours of service contributed? Or that the monetary value of a volunteer in the state of Missouri is $21.17 per hour? VMI gave me creative ideas for acknowledging volunteers on an ongoing basis. The next time a big project or event is completed, write a thank you note to the spouse or families of your volunteers expressing the worth of the time that was spent away from them. If at the end of the day the outcome is 100 completed sandwiches where you would have finished 25 alone, give those volunteers some sugar! 

Of course volunteers aren’t the only ones worthy of a moment of thanks. When managed with deliberate intention, volunteers are an investment. They cost your organization time and resources. The last important lesson to be taken from VMI is the one we too often skip in this industry: to give ourselves a modicum of credit and the opportunity to be reminded that we are not alone, balancing our seventeen hats as we skip from fire to fire. Take five minutes to put your feet up, because one of those subs, one of those hoagies, one of those heroes is for you!

Save the Date
Volunteer Management Institute
September 17, 18 & 19

Look for Volunteer Management Institute II for advanced volunteer managers in November 2014!