Lessons learned from my four and a half years in Volunteer Management

Written by on 01-17-2011

I managed thousands of volunteers throughout my festival seasons. Along the way I learned a few things that I wish someone would have pointed out to me prior to my volunteer manager career. Take them, leave them or nod in agreement that you are experiencing (or have experienced) the same thing. No matter what, I hope you enjoy them as I have enjoyed my time as a volunteer manager.

1. No matter how BIG, bold or colorful you write something to catch attention, there will still be volunteers who do not read it. You will still receive calls with questions about everything you spent time on writing to eliminate these kinds of calls.

I spent so much time crafting emails, drafting messages for our online website, thinking cleverly on how to catch the attention of the volunteer who was reading it. I changed the font, used italics, underlined things, bolded important words and even used some color in words to grab attention. I was so proud of my work and occasionally thought to myself: “I got it! People cannot miss these important messages! I will finally stop repeating myself on phone calls.” But alas, it never fails. You can spell it out, write it in the sky, hand deliver it in singing telegrams to volunteers and you will still get calls asking questions about what you so cleverly laid out in the email or on the website. Settle in and enjoy repeating things!

2. It’s not personal.

This was a tough lesson to learn. If you are passionate like me, you take every comment received to heart. Then I had to realize that no matter how long it took me to pick the perfect color for the volunteer shirt, there would still be people who did not like it. I could change the time and location of the orientation and material distribution all I wanted, but there would still be people who want it the other way. You have to pick and choose the survey comments that you want to react to that make the most sense for your entire volunteer program. Realize that the other comments are mainly from people who want to be heard. So hear them, but don’t take it personal.

3. You cannot be afraid to enforce the rules.

Don’t let volunteers run you and your program. These rules are set up for a reason, most likely a reason that helps you manage the program, organize and/or keep everything equal. Believe in it and stick with it and the volunteers will come to respect you and will follow those important rules.

4. Moving to online volunteer registration was a lifesaver (and a career saver!).

While I miss signing my name a million times on letters that we were sending out to volunteers to remind them of their shift information…okay not really, I do not miss it at all! Online registration allows you to finally be a volunteer manager and manage instead of being stuck behind the desk doing administrative work. It is a beautiful thing!

5. The constant phone calls, answering of messages, and forever ringing of the phone will get frustrating. However, when the event/festival/season is over and the phone calls, messages, and ringing ends, you will actually miss talking with your volunteers!

It’s all these things combined that made my experience so memorable and enjoyable! Yes, there was frustration (where isn’t there?) and yes there were days where I wondered if I could come back and do it all over again (at least I’m admitting it!) and yes, I was exhausted at times (so is the life in events), but this was all a part of the experience and I would not trade it for anything. In hindsight, I would probably not spend as much time on creating emails and messages! In the end, as stated in Lesson Learned #5, I truly miss talking with everyone.

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