November 20, 2011

Volunteer Recruitment and Retention

Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Professionalism, Valuing Volunteers at 2:01 am by Sue Hine

It has to be the chestnut season, because here is another topic much featured in the annals of discussion among managers of volunteers.

The Old Hands refer to Recruitment & Retention as MV101, one of the first steps in learning about management of volunteers.

The Newbies ask questions like:

  • Why am I having trouble finding enough volunteers for our programme?
  • What is the best way to recruit volunteers?
  • Why do they go through all the screening and training and then drop out?
  • Why do volunteers just disappear without giving notice?  They just don’t come back.

The Old Hands will ask:

  • What sort of paper-work have you got for your programme?  Volunteer policy?  Job descriptions?  Rights and responsibilities statement, or a code of practice?  Screening Process?  Training programme organised?  Volunteer performance review?
  • Do you have a budget to offer celebrations of volunteer achievement, rewards and appreciation?
  • Do you have a bag of ways to appreciate volunteer contributions to your organisation?
  • When volunteers leave can you catch up with them for an exit interview, even if it’s a fill-in form per e-mail?

And the Old Hands’ advice will be to get all this in place before you start thinking about recruiting volunteers.   Then they will add:

You want to get the best possible people to volunteer for your organisation?

  • You make sure you spell out what is expected via a job description and all that organisational stuff, plus all the support systems available to volunteers
  • You target the most likely resource population
  • You go ask them (Simple, eh?)
  • You get creative when a prospective volunteer offers skills not previously considered for your organisation – be innovative and enterprising.

You want to keep your volunteers engaged?

  • Make sure they have a good experience!
  • Say ‘thank you’ in as many ways as you can think of, and then some!
  • Respect and value volunteer work, and make sure paid staff do too!
  • Volunteers will stick around when you understand your role is more than nuts-and-bolts management, that you need to be a people-person, and how your leadership skills will ensure the best possible volunteer programme.

Now the Newbies cry “But how do we get there?”

Ummm…  The Old Hands pause.  They have to think about where they came from:

  • The school of hard knocks
  • The sink-or-swim school
  • The long-and-winding trail of a varied employment history
  • Training and education and professional qualifications in something completely different from managing volunteers
  • Lots of experience as a volunteer, even plucked from the pool to be a manager
  • Because it was added to a paid position when nobody else would do it

OK.  The Old Hands pause again.

You’re lucky, they say to the Newbies.  Training opportunities for managers of volunteers are available, in a sort of pick-and-mix way.  You can pick through

  • Volunteer Centre forums / seminars / workshops
  • Qualifications offered by industry or vocational programmes such as Tafe (Australia), NVQ (UK) or ITOs (NZ).
  • Programmes like Australasian Retreat for Managers of Volunteers, or a raft of Webinars being offered in the UK and US
  • On-line applied training through energizeinc.com or CVA and Volunteering NZ
  • A ‘relevant’ University level Certificate / Degree / Post-Graduate Diploma
  • And don’t forget learning from colleagues, getting into mentoring and peer supervision.

Beware!  The Old Hands have not quite finished.  We have not yet sorted what it takes to be a properly credentialed manager of volunteers.  Not the last word anyway.  You may have some ideas, and you need to go look at the current issue of e-Volunteerism to see what is going on, and to make sure you have your say.

Here ends a shorthand version of resolving the trials of Recruitment & Retention of volunteers.  Don’t let it put you off!

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