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Volunteer Management Update
June 2014
June Hot Topic


The current emphasis of funders on "innovating" or "reimagining" programs implies some assumptions that deserve to be questioned. Is something new always something better? Where do volunteers fit into this all? 

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. 

Free On-site Library

liberty bell

Planning to see the sites in Philadelphia, PA any time soon? After you've learned American history at Independence National Park, soothed your eyes at the Barnes Foundation museum, and eaten your Philly cheesesteak, come visit the Energize office in the Germantown section of the city. Energize maintains one of the largest physical collections of books, journals, and other materials on volunteer management in the world (which was why creating an online library was a natural evolution for us). With over 6,000 items, including complete collections of all of the major journals in the field, this reference-only library is open to researchers (or browsers) free of charge. But you need to make an appointment in advance. If you are or will be in Philadelphia, please get in touch at info@energizeinc.com or +1-215-438-8342.

Online Bookstore

Volunteer resources managers often focus on ensuring volunteers are properly prepared for their roles. Don't forget to make sure employees are prepared as well! The Energize Online Bookstore has many books and resources to help you train everyone in the organization to understand volunteers and partner with them more effectively.  Visit the Training Ideas and Resources section of the bookstore for these and other training tools:


Focus on Volunteering KOPYKITTM

Formatted, printable pages about volunteering, how to work with volunteers, the history of volunteering, and today's trends--for use as training handouts, bulletin board posters, newsletter inserts.


training series

Training Busy Staff to Succeed with Volunteers: The 55-Minute Staff Training Series (Complete Set) Twelve ready-to-deliver, but completely adaptable, training sessions for teaching paid staff the fundamentals of working with volunteers in your setting. Complete with Microsoft PowerPointŪ slides.


Leading the Way to Successful Volunteer Involvement A set of checklists, worksheets, idea stimulators, and other practical guides for senior-level leaders to incorporate volunteer involvement as a key ingredient in the overall strategy of an organization. 

What's New in e-Volunteerism?


Volume XIV, Issue 3 of e-Volunteerism,our international, subscription-based journal for informing and challenging leaders of volunteers, launched in mid-April and will run through mid-July. As announced, this is a special theme issue focusing entirely on the role and future of Volunteer Centers around the world.


Free Access this Month:


From the Archives

Tom McKee

Managing the Non-Volunteer Volunteer  (Volume VIII, Issue 4,July 2008) Tom McKee explores the provocative question:How do you manage volunteers who don't choose to be there, who volunteer because they have to after often being "bullied" into service? This situation and his suggestions will never go out of date!  Especially in faith-based organizations and other all-volunteer groups.

From the Current Issue

Points of View

author images The Competitive Edge: Tension between Volunteer Centers and Volunteer Resources Managers and How to Change It - Susan J. Ellis and Rob Jackson examine a common problem rarely addressed directly: unintended but real competition between Volunteer Centers and those they serve - and how to change the dynamics.



Subscriber Access Only:

(Subscribe for a full year or 48-hour access) 


New Postings Since the Last Update

Volunteer Centres: Where Do They Fit in Changing and Contested Environment?
Australian Annette Maher examines the factors that challenge Volunteer Centers at the national and local levels


Forming a Collaborative Training Partnership: A Rollercoaster of Learning Curves for Three Volunteer Centres This Training Design tells the story of how three Canadian Volunteer Centers came together to offer volunteer management training in their part of Ontario.


What Does a Relevant Volunteer Center Look Like?

Along the Web co-editors, Brit Arnie Wickens and Yank Eric C. Lear, add to this issue's theme with annotated links to successful Volunteer Centers online.


Still to Come this Quarter: The final article completing this themed issue on Volunteer Centers will be a Research to Practice feature reviewing an academic study of HandsOn Network. But there is still time for you to add your thoughts by text, audio or video in Your Voice Goes Here! A Call for Discussion about this Issue.


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 thirteen previous volume years.

Susan's Tip
of the Month


The question of where to "place" responsibility for the administration of volunteer involvement surfaces repeatedly, with no agreed upon standard practice. While there is no definitely right or wrong department or level in an organization where volunteers belong, where they appear on the organizational chart sends a message as to their importance. As always, the key is to make the choice strategically.


Right now there seems to be a trend for larger nonprofits to put volunteer services into the marketing or public relations department. In most cases, this means a transfer out of the chain of command running the organization's direct client services, a move that may have unintended consequences.  On the plus side, this placement acknowledges volunteers as vital to strong relations with the community. It also provides the volunteer resources manager (VRM) with access to resources in media relations, technology, graphic arts, and other elements important in recruiting and recognizing volunteers.


On the other side of the coin, however, the marketing staff is removed from the daily operations of the organization and outside of any decision making about client services. This poses a serious problem for the VRM, who must be in the loop about what is going on in order to place volunteers into all units throughout the organization.  This requires ongoing contact with direct service staff and participation in planning sessions no one else in marketing would ever attend. So how can the head of marketing competently supervise the VRM and represent the needs of volunteers higher up the chain?


Another negative is the message this placement sends about the role of volunteers.  Rather than clearly integrated with the service delivery team, being assigned to the marketing department implies that volunteers are mainly "for show" or to win points with the public. It certainly does not convey the sense that volunteers are doing substantive things to further the mission of the organization. 


Other Common
Placement O

One can identify pros and cons for any of the placement options common for volunteer services.


In the human resources or personnel department:


Pros: This permits merger (or eliminates duplication) of some systems for creating position descriptions, staff  handbooks, training, and recordkeeping. The VRM is then positioned to be the human resource "specialist for non-paid staff," and can assure that organization policies foster good employee-volunteer relations, that staff is trained in how to work with volunteers, and more.


Cons: Over time attention to volunteers is whittled down, as volunteers are given lower priority than paid staff. The tendency is to define volunteer management as employee management, without acknowledging the key differences - nor encouraging or funding these special issues.


In the development or fundraising office:


Pros: From this vantage point, volunteers are presented internally and externally as part of the department that coordinates outreach to community groups and businesses, bringing in all community resources (both money and time) to further the mission of the organization. 


Cons: As with the marketing department, fundraising staff has little direct involvement with the service delivery staff, so again the VRM is at a disadvantage in placing volunteers strategically. Because most organizations value raising funds more than raising time and talent, the VRM is rarely viewed as a partner in resource development, but rather as an assistant to the staff bringing in money. Even more serious is that volunteers may get the message that they are wanted only for their financial value.


All of the options above put the VRM and volunteers "under" another department. That in itself sends a message. If the organization wants to promote volunteer involvement as important and essential, there are two more choices.


Placed within the executive offices, reporting directly to the executive director:


Pros: This demonstrates the value placed on volunteer engagement and gives the VRM continuous overview of the whole organization, as well as access to top decision makers.


Cons: But the proximity also means that the executive can divert the VRM to other areas and activities unrelated to volunteer engagement. More critically, lower level staff may feel constrained from sharing concerns or needs with the VRM.


Finally there is the creation of an independent volunteer resources department, sending the message that volunteers are recognized as vital enough to warrant focused attention. 


Pros: The VRM is seen and treated as a department head, serves on the senior management team, submits a budget to be allocated to support volunteers, and is held accountable for running a successful volunteer involvement initiative.


Cons: Employees can view volunteers as "belonging" to the volunteer resources department when, in fact, everyone is responsible for supporting volunteers wherever their assignment places them. Also, most department heads do not engage themselves in the functioning of other departments and so may wonder why the director of volunteer resources shows up in their work area, speaks to their employees, and works with staff at all levels. Yet this is precisely what is required to identify positions for volunteers and place them effectively.


Where volunteer resources appears on the organizational chart is a decision deserving careful assessment. Recognize that the placement can enable or disable the VRM in developing the potential of volunteer engagement for ongoing success. 

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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