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Volunteer Management Update
September 2013
September Hot Topic


Volunteer resources managers (VRMs) are constantly being told what we can learn from professionals in personnel or human resources (HR). Maybe it's time we tell HR what they can learn from us.  Read this month's Hot Topic 


You can subscribe to the Hot Topic as a podcast or RSS text feed - or listen to the audio online. 

Chance to Participate


For two months, subscribers to e-Volunteerism have read and responded to something out of the ordinary. The article, Help Us Create a Volunteer Word Cloud!, asks readers to submit the words they think of the most to describe volunteers and volunteering. The plan is, collectively, to produce a "word cloud" to visualize the concept.

With one month to go in this issue, we are opening the article up to welcome input from everyone, whether or not they subscribe to the journal. Here's one word cloud we formed from responses to date.


Keep the process going and add your favorite descriptors. At the end of October, we'll create and share the final word cloud that you can print as a mini-poster or save as desktop wallpaper.


To our international readers: Feel free to submit words in languages other than English. This will only make the cloud more interesting.


Click here to learn more and get to the submission form.

Online Bookstore
When is the last time you reviewed your policies about volunteer management procedures? Do you follow protocol in screening potential volunteers? Are paid staff members informed about how to deal with troublesome behavior from a volunteer? Are volunteer handbooks up to date? Schedule time in the next four months to review organizational policies related to engaging volunteers and start 2014 off with a fresh perspective. Don't forget to solicit advice from the executive director and the board to promote the fact that safe, responsible volunteer involvement is everyone's responsibility.


For help, visit the Energize Online Bookstore for books related to creating policies about volunteer involvement.

What's New in e-Volunteerism


Volume XIII, Issue 4 of e-Volunteerism, our international, subscription-based journal for informing and challenging leaders of volunteers, launched in mid-July and will run through mid-October.


Free Access this Month:


From the Archives 


Volunteering Through the Eyes and Ears of a Dedicated Dog Volunteer (Volume IV, Issue 1, October 2003). Mikey, a 13-pound Shih Tzu, shares his considerable experience in various volunteer roles (all through the voice of his "pet person," Charles Stallings). Charming and humorous, this unusual perspective provides insights into what any human volunteer might encounter, too.


Current Points of View 


The Sparking Controversy about Volunteer Internships, in which Susan Ellis and Rob Jackson examine the rapidly growing debate - around the world - about whether unpaid internships (particularly those that are full-time) exploit young people and sidestep labor laws. Become informed and follow the many links to current media stories provided (including ones in which unpaid interns have successfully sued for back pay).

New Postings Since the Last Update:

Subscriber Access Only:
(Subscribe for a full year or 48-hour access)

Exploring the Academic Archives and Beyond: Research Can Be Your Friend - Janina M. Fuller presents a practical approach to mining scholarly literature and to finding colleagues in academia to create partnerships to expand your research horizons.

Jump on the Intern Bandwagon - Given the unpaid internship controversy discussed in this issue's Points of View, Linda Miller's Training Design offers just-in-time guidance on how to develop solid internship positions.

Volunteering as Producer of Social Capital and Well-being - Along the Web co-editor Arnie Wickens explores the growing body of research proving that volunteering is good for society as a whole and that it needs to be nurtured and fostered.

Still to Come in this Issue


We'll finish our volunteering word cloud! (See above.) This issue remains current through October 15.


You can subscribe to e-Volunteerism for a full year or for 48-hour access. Note that subscribers have full access to the Archives of all twelve previous volume years.

Susan's Tip
of the Month


No one wants to volunteer time uselessly. One way to respect this principle is by periodically assessing how well volunteers are performing assigned work, both to applaud valuable effort and to improve or correct problems.


Call the process something other than an "evaluation," which conjures up memories of student report cards (or pay raise conferences) and emphasizes the past. Instead, use more neutral phrases, such as Mutual Assessment, Progress Plan, or the Where-Are-We? Check-in.


Think of volunteer performance assessment as recognition. Any constructive feedback you give to volunteers will help them do better...and therefore to contribute more productively. If you do not point out errors, you allow volunteers to waste their time - hardly what any of you want.


Apply the process to all volunteers fairly and equitably. Tell all new volunteers that assessment is a routine part of the work because everyone wants to provide the best services.


Be sure that the evaluation process is two-way. This is a great opportunity to learn about your organization from the volunteers' perspective. (Remember how we keep saying that volunteers bring us a fresh point of view?)


Start from the Position Description


Without a written volunteer position description to which the volunteer committed at the beginning of service, there is no basis upon which to determine if a volunteer was successful or not in fulfilling an assignment.


So start by revisiting the volunteer position description:

  • What was actually accomplished since the volunteer signed on? What was not and why?
  • What did the volunteer do (positive or negative) that was not in the original position description?
  • How should the position description be revised to accommodate changes in the work since it was written?
  • Is there need for more training or additional resources to support greater success?

Engage the volunteer in considering how to resolve any possible concerns. When possible, and if you think a volunteer would welcome it, offer some alternatives to keep things fresh: the chance to take a break and work temporarily on a special project; help to update the training new volunteers in the same role receive; advance into a leadership position; transfer to another department. Or, recommit to the assignment for another period of time.


Be Prepared to Take Action


Individual evaluations often surface unexpected issues. Are you prepared to correct poor performance? If not, you send a message to all other volunteers that their hard work is not valued. You also send a message to paid staff that they cannot expect quality standards of volunteers.


Are you ready to respond to identified needs? Can you give additional training to volunteers? What happens if the process shows the need for further training of paid staff? What if there is not enough work space or access to onsite computers? In other words, if there are obstacles preventing volunteers from doing their best, will you advocate for changes?


Look ahead, not back. This is an opportunity for re-commitment and is best approached as a form of recognition. Celebrate volunteer accomplishments! But be willing, too, to deal directly with possible problems, whatever the source.

This Quick Tip comes from
Susan J. Ellis, President of Energize, Inc. 


Want more of
Susan's Wisdom? 

Read her books. You'll find them in our bookstore.


If you missed our last newsletter, you will find our newsletter archive here 

Material may be re-posted or printed without additional permission, provided credit is given to Energize, Inc., and our Web site address is included: 


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