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Volunteer Management Update
August 2014
August Hot Topic

The fundamental flaw in the age-old debate about the question "Who is a volunteer?" is that we seek clear, definite answers. But there are far too many nuances for that. Susan poses some key questions to bring all the issues to the surface. 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. 

A Challenge


Although we are an American company, Energize has always tried to reach out internationally and provide resources we think are universally applicable. Our online library and calendar of events include information from anywhere we can find them. We offer books from 6 different countries and our journal, e-Volunteerism, has always had an international editorial board and has published articles from authors in over 20 countries. We're proud of this track record and plan to continue our cross-border efforts.


But...in the past year we've noticed something a bit strange. From submission of manuscripts to the journal to responses to postings, our American colleagues have been relatively invisible! As one example, last quarter's e-Volunteerism was on the theme of volunteer centers. We were able to entice one American (the knowledgeable Nikki Russell) to contribute to the issue's Keyboard Roundtable, but were not able to generate further comments from any other Americans. We even tried to invite such contributions by direct e-mails to a variety of volunteer center leaders. Further, UKVPMs and OzVPM continue to have useful, regular discussions, while CyberVPM is relatively dead in the water.


To everyone outside of the United States: Bravo, thank you, and please keep participating! We love being an international forum, especially when there are few places we can exchange thoughts on issues common to us all.


To our American colleagues, we are issuing a challenge: Prove you're out there by expressing yourself. Here are 3 ways to do so:

  1. Comment on an article in e-Volunteerism - There's a submission form at the end of every article.

  2. Submit an article to e-Volunteerism sometime in the next year. (If your concept is accepted, we will work with you to mentor you to publication.) Send an e-mail with your idea to editor@e-volunteerism.com.

  3. Tell us why you do not like to express your opinion or ask a question of a colleague online! In the spirit of online service (which you will demonstrate if you accept the challenge), we've posted this question to the Virtual Volunteering group on LinkedIn. Go here to reply.
Author Spotlight: Betty B. Stallings

author headshotBetty Stallings is a popular international trainer, consultant, author, and keynote speaker, specializing in volunteerism, nonprofit fundraising, board development and leadership. We take pride in offering her titles in e-book (PDF) format. Your volunteer management toolbox is not complete without Betty's resources:


book cover12 Key Actions of Volunteer Program Champions
Free report on what real-life "Volunteer Program Champion" CEOs think, feel, and do to support volunteer involvement in their organizations. 



book coverLeading the Way to Successful Volunteer Involvement: Practical Tools for Busy Executives
Checklists, worksheets, idea stimulators, and other practical guidelines for senior-level leaders to incorporate volunteer involvement as a key ingredient in the overall strategy of an organization.

book coverTraining Busy Staff to Succeed with Volunteers: The 55-Minute Staff Training Series (Complete Set)
12 ready-to-deliver, but completely adaptable, training sessions for teaching paid staff the fundamentals of working with volunteers in your setting - complete with PowerPoint slides and handouts. Each module can also be purchased individually.

 book coverHow to Produce Fabulous Fundraising Events
Step-by-step guide to making money effectively and enjoyably by running a "Dynamite Dinner" -- and how to involve volunteers throughout.


Betty's Articles in e-Volunteerism
Betty has also been a prolific contributor and former Training Designs section editor of our online journal. Visit her author page for her complete list of articles.  

What's New in e-Volunteerism?


Volume XIV, 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 Current Issue

author imagesPoints of View


The Challenges in Educating Senior Managers

Rob Jackson and Susan J. Ellis ponder the continuing question of why it is so hard to teach executives to value the contributions of volunteers and suggest some ways to improve the situation.


Subscriber Access Only:

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


New Postings Since the Last Update


Volunteering in the National Trust: From Attempts at Exemplars to a Quiet Revolution - Helen Timbrell shares the many positive changes in supporting volunteers at Britain's National Trust, following up last year's article in the journal that described their ambitious strategic plan.



The Art and Science of Designing Work for Volunteers - Canadian Debbie Anderson makes the case for applying paid job design theory to creating volunteer assignments, benefiting everyone.



Volunteers Working in Prison and Correctional Facilities - Arnie Wickens presents this Along the Web tour of the many things volunteers do specifically in prison systems around the world.



Still to Come in this Issue
Lots of interesting articles will be posted over the next weeks, including: reflections from Australian volunteerism pioneer, Louise Rogers; a Training Design on "The Art of Hosting and Harvesting Conversations That Matter"; a history of the Junior League and how it has reflected changes in the lives of women; and a review of a research study about retention of volunteers. As always, all past articles remain accessible (and open to reader comments) in the online Archives.


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


We naturally spend a lot of time trying to thank volunteers - organizing formal recognition events and providing daily signs of appreciation. The problem is that our best intentions can be sabotaged when things happen that send the totally opposite message.

What do I mean? Consider a few, real-life examples:

  • A new executive director announces a policy that volunteers will no longer be permitted to attend team meetings about clients with whom they work, ostensibly out of a concern for confidentiality - despite years of such meetings helping to focus client services.
  • Volunteers (in assignments of authority) are not permitted access to an organization's intranet or are not given an official e-mail address under which to do assigned work.
  • Volunteers are not included on the emergency contact list for key communication, whether notifying everyone of something important or even about closing the office due to a blizzard.
  • When a new employee is hired to do something that volunteers have been doing without any notice or comment to the displaced volunteers.

These are examples of policies and organizational actions that make it clear volunteers are not integrated into the workforce. No matter how many times senior management praises volunteers as the "heart" of the organization, it's these sorts of exclusionary practices that tell the real story. And volunteers notice.


Insincere Thanks

The most important aspect of expressing appreciation to volunteers is sincerity. The minute something seems rote, impersonal, or even untrue, the effect is to undermine any intended recognition.

Again, a few real examples:

  • I once was leaving a volunteer shift when the supervisor ran out to intercept me at the elevator. She pressed an unwrapped can of mixed nuts into my hand, saying breathlessly, "I forgot - we're supposed to give this to every volunteer this week to say thanks."
  • The door to the closet where volunteers were supposed to leave their coats, purses, and briefcases ran off its rails and was not fixed for 4 whole months (producing snide remarks from frustrated volunteers about where they fit on the list of priorities).
  • When every member of a committee or group receives exactly the same note of appreciation, even though they all know that at least 4 of them did almost nothing. (Try convincing those who burned out picking up the slack that they are really appreciated.)
  • When someone who is both a money and a time donor receives all sorts of flowery testimonials about how the cash was used without even mentioning the value of the volunteering they contributed.
  • When there is a formal (and separate) award system for those who raise money that is higher in status and cost than what is done to acknowledge the donation of time and skills in direct service.
  • When the executive director mispronounces the names of volunteers when giving out certificates and/or is clearly reading a prepared speech of gratitude written by the volunteer resources manager.

As colleague John Lipp puts it in his book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Recruiting and Managing Volunteers (Penguin, 2009), the goal should be "...a culture of appreciation in which everyone feels respected and valued for their contributions, with a deeper sense of connection to the organization and its mission." A culture of appreciation is not about saying thanks, but rather about acting appreciatively.


It's back to basics. For example, urge everyone to say hello (and goodbye) and smile. Yes, that really matters! Get into the habit of finishing a complete sentence after the words "thank you," such as: "Thank you for XYZ that you did today." This conveys that you noticed what was done, not just repeating a polite but empty phrase.


Pay attention to whether volunteers feel appreciated daily in genuine ways. If you don't, you may be wasting a lot of money on recognition banquets that backfire in the long run. 

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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