November 21, 2010

What real Managers of Volunteers know and can do!

Posted in Best Practice at 12:36 am by Sue Hine

If I heard last week the sad-sack stories of managing volunteers I have now got a bunch of positive advice from a different group.  They were asked to offer their best tips about managing volunteers, and if they did not know it then I told them loud and clear that they were demonstrating the best of best practice principles. 

With their permission I offer their range of best tips.

The basics

  • Make sure people know their job description
  • Constant training
  • Huge communication and encouragement
  • Sorting all the paperwork details.

 Value your volunteers

  • Make sure volunteers know how much they’re appreciated. This can be as easy as thanking them every time they finish a shift, or baking them cookies
  • Find out (based on their motivation) what kind of encouragement they need, and do it. I am genuinely in awe of fabulous volunteers, and I let them know it.
  • Let volunteers know how much we appreciate their time and energy
  • Recognise the hard work and effort that goes into some of the projects
  • Work with volunteers to identify any problems, to make it better for the next time.
  • If volunteers are listened to, and appreciated, they will keep offering their services.


  • Keep volunteers in the loop
  • Ensure prompt responses to phone and email messages
  • Reply to every e-mail they send, contact them at least once a week, either as a group or individually.
  • Open my ears and listen to volunteers.
  • Respecting that volunteers have a right to be kept informed
  • Take time to relate and talk to individual people on a work and personal level.
  • Your communication style can be a model for volunteers


  • “Lets tackle this together as a team”!
  • Set the goal, revisit the goal, speak constantly of the goal and openly talk about how ‘we’ the team are all going to achieve and realise this goal.
  • Then celebrate it once you are there! (even with a few packets of bikkies)
  • Strengthen what you have achieved by praising, referring back, relating to the journey and enjoying the rewards again.
  • Make the whole journey fun and memorable.
  • Create an environment where people want to commit their time and energy because they enjoy the people, team work, the ‘whole experience’. 

 The Golden Rule

  • Treat everyone as I would expect to be treated.
  • This approach shows your willingness to help others achieve the most out of their experience of volunteering.

 Do not exploit volunteer willingness

  • But do utilise volunteer expertise
  • Tap into skills they might use in their other lives

 Never stop learning

  • And always accept there are other ways of doing things and sometimes they are better.   


  • Screening volunteers properly and be selective rather than just taking anyone on
  • Only recruit volunteers that are the right fit for the role and for your organisation

 Be well organised

  • I make sure I am really well organised so everything is all ready for the volunteers when they get here.

 Personal attributes

Be honest, humble, passionate, supportive, communicative, encouraging, trusting, empathetic, understanding, a good listener, have belief in yourself and others, respectful, equal, value all, sad, happy, friendly, able to accept criticism, a team player, enjoy life and being alive, realistic, giving without the expectation of a return, caring.


There is no last word on management of volunteers.  The role is one of the most multi-skilled, most multi-tasking of all occupations.  With statements like these the profession is in good heart.  And I specially thank S for the following proverb:

“He nui maunga e kore e taea te whakaneke, he nui ngaru moana ma te ihu o te waka e wahi”.
A great mountain cannot be moved but a giant wave can be broken by the prow of a canoe.



  1. Wendy Moore said,

    You wouldn’t want to eat any cookies that I’ve baked. They are more like rock cakes made from genuine rocks.

    But cookie obsession aside, I have always found that taking time to develop a rapport and a genuine interest in the people volunteering within your organisation goes a long way in showing them that they are valued, appreciated and listened to.

    I have come up with a few words to describe some other personal attributes that may be useful for volunteer managers: flexible, proactive, creative, adaptable, generous, enlightened, inspiring and visionary. I am sure that there are many other words which can be added to this list.

    Wendy Moore
    Volunteer Coordinator
    Brisbane, Australia


    • Sue Hine said,

      Thanks for your additions Wendy. Except I wonder how many of us could claim even half this list. Pretty daunting I reckon, yet worth a try. And then I think about turning these qualities into behaviours – which is what the comments in this post were describing. Very encouraging for the profession.


      • Wendy Moore said,

        I believe that there are many volunteer managers who possess all of these attributes and more but perhaps they have just not discovered their own unique talents yet.

        Everyone should be encouraged to reach their full potential with a focus of what can be achieved if you believe rather than what is lacking.


  2. great list–thanks Sue


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