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Volunteer Management Update
June 2016
June Hot Topic
Susan explores the relationship between individual organizations and "connector" agencies such as volunteer centers created to increase community-wide volunteering. They have mutual goals, but different perspectives. How do we assure partnership and avoid competition? 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. Also, you can browse the archive of Susan's Hot Topics (since 1997!).
A-Z Volunteer Management Library

Since the first time Energize launched its site on the World Wide Web in 1997, we have always provided an area for our followers and site visitors to submit their experiences and ideas for leading volunteers successfully. In 1999, we even published a book, What We Learned (the Hard Way) about Supervising Volunteers, which collected the wisdom of 85 real, live volunteer resources managers into a single volume. And, we've continued to pursue our dream to build a robust "Collective Wisdom" area for leaders to communicate their knowledge.

We're delighted that the rise of blogging and social media has made it easy for more of us all over the world to share our creative ideas for leading volunteers. Energize has certainly jumped on board with Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. (Never mind that Susan's Hot Topic was a blog before blogging existed and has always wanted readers to post comments!)

It's Easy to Contribute

Energize's true love is that of curating - finding, gathering, and sharing the very best information about volunteer involvement. So we continue to collect great ideas on our site by asking YOU, our site visitors, to submit your tips and hints at any time. The wisdom we collect this way can be found in our A-Z Volunteer Management Library. Under each subject, look for the tab "Tips from Colleagues."

Please share your great ideas by clicking on the link that looks like this:

One More Request

As you use the A-Z Library, you'll see many topics with an overflow of resources but some with only a few. This doesn't mean that nothing has been said about the subject; it means we haven't necessarily located it all yet! That's another way you can help. If you know of some good information that is not listed, please tell us by clicking on this link:

You can even submit materials created by you or your organization.

Note that we also welcome corrections to any post you see. It's impossible to keep on top of all the changes that happen online all the time, so please help us keep our site as useful as possible by reporting outdated information.

THANK YOU to everyone who has shared ideas and information in the past - and we look to forward to getting even more tips from you in the future!
What's New in e-Volunteerism


Volume XVI, Issue 3 of e-Volunteerism, our international, subscription-based journal, continues through July 15th. As always, all previous journal issues are available to subscribers online in the in the Archives.
Free Access this Month:   

From the Archives 
The Competitive Edge: Tension between Volunteer Centers and Volunteer Resources Managers and How to Change It (Vol. XIV, Issue 3, April 2014) - This is the Points of View essay by Susan J. Ellis and Rob Jackson in the special theme issue on Volunteer Centers published in 2014 and still very informative. It expands on some of the points Susan makes in this month's Hot Topic.

From the Current Issue

Points of View 
Missing the Point: Asking the Wrong Questions in Volunteering Research - Rob Jackson and Susan J. Ellis take issue with recent research on volunteering and argue that asking the wrong questions will ensure the wrong answers. They review troublesome assumptions in a published UK research report and, before long, are in full rant mode: Do we need more volunteers? Stop studying volunteer motivation, please!

Subscriber Access Only:  
(Subscribe for a full year or 48-hour access)
New Postings Since the Last Update
Five Strategies to Shut Down Volunteer Conflict - Are some volunteers in a heated conflict with one another or, worse, in conflict with you and maybe even the direction of your organization? Marla Benson, creator of the Volunteer Conflict Management SystemSM, offers five key strategies to manage volunteer conflict before, during, and after it occurs.
Still to Come in this issue 
Look for more new articles on an Australian "Healthy Living Ambassadors" program in which a national public awareness campaign helped volunteers expand their own health awareness to others; Web resources for victim services; a review of a study on multi-generational volunteer programs; and more.

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 15 previous volume years.

Did you know we have created copyright-free graphics to use as you wish in motivating volunteers? Visit our Pinterest page to see this board and more images we collect for you.
Susan's Tip
of the Month
The law of averages makes it probable that someone, sometime is going to say something negative about your organization. In the past, such criticism might have taken the form of letters to the newspaper or to government officials, comments said at a public meeting, or complaining phone calls. Today we've raised the ante with social networking platforms in which online discussion groups, blogs, and even photo sharing sites are interactive public forums. They allow people to comment on what your organization posts and to initiate exchanges on their personal Web pages.

Some negative comments come from individuals taking their personal complaints public, while other criticism may focus on disagreement with a decision made by the organization or discomfort with something that went wrong in the delivery of service. Generally paid staff fear losing their jobs and so keep their thoughts private; but what if volunteers are disgruntled?

Most feel that volunteers - almost by definition - are supporters of the organization and therefore "goodwill ambassadors" from the organization to the community. Do not take this for granted. Just because someone gets involved as a volunteer does not automatically mean they like everything they see on site. In fact, some volunteers sign on in the first place to protect your clients against what they fear might happen to them. As one example, this sort of motivation is common in long-term care facilities, whether for older adults, dependent children, or people with disabilities. Volunteers see themselves as "watchdogs," assuring that the clients have friends inside the system.

So the first questions to answer are:
Do you know what volunteers are saying about you? To whom? In what ways?

Do not assume; find out. Even better, develop systems to insure that volunteers know how to ask questions, offer constructive criticism, make suggestions, or give other input when issues first arise. Ideally you will hear negative opinions early and be able to deal with them before they fester or go public.

And before you panic at the idea of supporters not being so supportive, consider that how you handle negative feedback can reflect very positively on the organization. It can also win over your critics and reinforce volunteer loyalty for the long term.

How to Deal with Dissent
Colleague Jayne Cravens of Coyote Communications gives excellent advice in her article, "How to Handle Online Criticism/Conflict," which applies as well to real-world dissent and to criticism from any source. Here are some of her suggestions:
Address criticism directly and promptly. If you cannot respond fully immediately, then at least acknowledge that the complaint has been read/heard by the organization and a response is coming promptly. Then do report back, at least with progress reports on when more information or a decision will be conveyed.
Engage critics in constructive conversation, such as genuinely wanting to hear their answer to: "What do you think would make this situation better or how might it be improved?"
When appropriate, invite the dissenting volunteer to take part in a staff meeting, or create a dedicated, short-term online forum specifically to address the issue being raised.
If some part of a criticism is accurate, acknowledge it. That does not necessarily mean agreeing with the person fully. (Can you think about the criticism from the person's point of view and therefore agree with some of it?)
If a complaint does not present the whole story, then do so yourself, as quickly and thoroughly as possible. If a complaint is off-base, counter it with indisputable, dispassionate facts. And offer to supply any other facts that will clarify the situation. Ask the original critic if he or she has any questions or comments about the facts as you have offered them.
If a decision is made by the organization in response to the complaint, explain how the decision was reached and who was involved in making it. If it was not a democratic process, say so; not all decisions can be made by a vote. The key is to be transparent.
If the criticism is of an action that is not negotiable or changeable, then be prepared to sincerely acknowledge the criticism but also to stand your ground. Perhaps you can acknowledge missteps such as not asking for feedback before a decision was made or communicating it poorly. Promising to change how future decisions are made can take the sting out of losing the battle, because it shows critics that speaking out did have some impact.

When volunteers care enough to criticize, they need to be taken seriously, and you need to show that you have taken them seriously. No one expects all complaints to be resolved to each party's total satisfaction. It's the process of openly discussing issues that reinforces valuable relationships.

If you have worked to create trust with volunteers, you are more likely to learn of issues early and privately. If volunteers already trust you, you are going to have a much better time dealing with criticism that does occur and most volunteers will be ready to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Jayne Cravens also shared her tips for dealing with online criticism in The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook.


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


Want more of Susan's Wisdom? 


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