7 Habits of Highly Effective Volunteer Coordinators

Written by on 04-16-2012

Any hard-working charitable fundraiser knows that charitable giving is about relationships.  There are people who contribute money because they are simply dedicated to your cause – however; strong, consistent, annual giving is dependent on relationships between a donor and an organization, its staff members, and volunteers.  Even more critical than the relationship is that donors feeling that they are truly making a difference.

Understanding of why people give their money is even more important in understanding why people give their time.  While it can be difficult to convince people to part with their money, at least money is a renewable resource and can result in immediate and tangible results.  Time, on the other hand, can never be reclaimed or renewed.  It may also be harder to tie to results.  How does working the concession stand at a festival impact a city’s economy?  Will working the fun run registration table at 6:00 in the morning really help cure a disease?

Build Trust

In my experience as a volunteer manager, my greatest successes have been less about nifty T-shirts, backstage access or free admission and more about the trust I have built among my volunteers.  Volunteers know that if they work an event with me, they will have the information, equipment, and tools they need to complete the job; they understand their impact on the organization and its mission; they always feel appreciated and respected.

Provide Tools

Make sure your volunteers have all the answers before they ask the questions.  Job descriptions should be more than a couple of general sentences about the task.  Be sure to include:

~   Parking:  Where do volunteers park?  Is parking free?  Do they need to submit a parking ticket for reimbursement?
~   Skills required:  Does the volunteer need to know Microsoft Excel or how to operate a garden tiller?
~   Work conditions:  Will the volunteer be working in the sun, expected to stand the entire shift, or required to lift boxes?
~   Equipment needed:  Do volunteers need to bring their own shovel and gloves or perhaps a laptop computer?
~   Personal comfort:  Are food and beverages provided?  Will a volunteer need cash for any reason?  Will there be space to securely store purses and other belongings?  Are there rules about phone use while working?  Can volunteers bring minor children?

Be prepared

Be ready to explain to volunteers the significant impact they have on the overall mission and goals of the organization and the specific event.  The only way to do this is to understand it yourself.  It is your job to know the economic impact of an event on your city or state, how funds raised at an event will be used by the organization, the number of clients that can be served by funds raised, the monetary value of labor provided by volunteers, and how each volunteer position (no matter how seemingly insignificant) contributes to the big picture.  Volunteer coordinators should have this information on the tips of their tongues at all times to encourage involvement and dedication among volunteers before, during and even after an event.

Get Your Hands Dirty

Finally, make your volunteers feel significant not only to the event or organization, but to you personally.  Let them see you taking part in the boring and the dirty as you have asked them to do.  Treat them with respect on the job.  Offer gratitude for their individual skills.  If a job does not have to be completed a certain way, allow volunteers the freedom to experiment in finding their own method.

Be Nice

And most important, be nice.  Looking up to greet volunteers as they arrive and taking a moment to say “goodbye” and “thank you” at the end of a shift goes a long way.  Explain to new volunteers where the restrooms and kitchen are located.  Let them know about office habits and expectations such as dropping a quarter in the coffee jar or changing the toilet paper roll in the ladies room (those of you working in small organizations just smiled because you know I speak true!).

Explain Your Quirks

It may not always be possible to focus on manners in the midst of an urgent task or problem.  My volunteers nod with understanding when I explain in training sessions that, while my mother raised me to be a lovely, polite, southern lady, I tend to bark orders when I am managing an urgent situation.  I ask that they understand in those instances that the “please” and “thank you” are implied and I will express the proper gratitude when the situation is under control.  With that simple explanation during training, my volunteers tend to adopt a very business-like attitude if we ever do face a problem and have told me afterwards, “You didn’t bark once!”

Say Thanks

And finally, don’t forget a sincere, personal thank you after the dust settles following an event.  I still believe in the hand-written thank you note.  I do acquiesce to computer-generated form letters for the largest events.  However, even form letters deserve an original signature and possibly a hand-written note or smiley face on the bottom.

I have sent hand-written thank you notes for events as large as 350 volunteers.  Every event I have ever worked on included some number of hand-written notes to (depending on the size of the event) committee chairs, committee members, and volunteers going above and beyond the call of duty.  Don’t forget letters to caterers, hotel management, transportation companies, etc. if members of their staffs went beyond expectations in making an event a success.  I have had waiters and bus drivers volunteer for future events because I took the time to acknowledge their hard work.

I take great pride in the volunteer teams I have built for clients.  By addressing the key elements of providing thorough information about the job, explaining the impact of their work, and showing appreciation of their efforts, I have created a following of community-driven people who ask me to contact them for future volunteer assignments.  While an organization’s mission is important, these volunteers tell me that they equally motivated by serving on my team.  They tell me that they are confident that any project we tackle together will prove to be of great importance to our community, improve the lives of our neighbors, and is guaranteed to be fun.

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