July 1, 2012

Top Tips for Managing Volunteers

Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Leading Volunteers, Professional Development, Professionalism, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , , , at 5:16 am by Sue Hine

One of my pleasures these days is learning from others, while being a de facto teacher.  That’s not such a contradiction of terms when you think about teaching as the means to assist and support others in their learning and in their development as managers of volunteers.

That’s what I do as tutor for the on-line introductory programme on Managing Volunteers.  The core information is laid out in easy-to-read web pages (with all the nice extras of side-bars and video clips and personal experience stories).   Participants are required to complete weekly assignments and to post them to the on-line forum, for all to share, and to learn from each other.

Here is what is required for the last assignment:

Think of your dealings with volunteers and give your very best tip, hint or advice – your hard won experience, some approach that really worked for you.  Maybe it’s the knowledge you wish someone had told you before you had to go and find out for yourself!  If you can, distil your wisdom down into a few words or a couple of sentences.

Always, this assignment generates sincere personal testimonies, showing me there is a lot of wisdom out there, and that volunteers are managed by pretty good hands.  I have collated responses from the most recent course, and reproduce them below (with permission) to offer their best tips to a wider audience.

 The Golden Rule

  • Always treat others how you would like to be treated
  • Always look for the good in other people
  • Do not expect volunteers to do anything you would not do yourself
  • Treat people with the respect, communication and action(s) you expect to receive.


  • Be open and available
  • Regularly
  • By email
  • Pick up the phone and actually talk to people
  • Listen, more than you speak!
  • Give feedback


  • Positive interaction
  • Acknowledge length of service
  • Annual awards function
  • Smile, say thank you, then say thank you again

Care for your Volunteers

  • Encourage, reward and praise
  • Make them feel special
  • Take time for a chat
  • Be open and available to support volunteers
  • Work alongside volunteers

Be inclusive

  • Involve volunteers in staff meetings, planning and policy development
  • Give volunteers a chance to contribute their views

Be creative and innovative

  • Encourage skill development
  • Provide opportunities for learning
  • Create new positions relevant to volunteer skills and interests
  •  Find ways to engage with the rising numbers of young people

Be professional

  • Be organised
  • Be consultative
  • Be consistent in applying standards, and in your approach
  • Show integrity to engender trust

 Make Volunteering Fun!      Enjoy having a good laugh!

Be humble 

Here are reminders of the wide scope and range of responsibilities for a Manager of Volunteers.  You are not just planning and implementing a Volunteer Programme; you are not just serving the needs of the organisation.  You are not ‘just’ anything!  You are the leader of people who are the champions of the organisation, the go-to and can-do people who make the real difference.

I am humbled by what I learn from volunteers, and by the wealth of knowledge and skills that people bring to management of volunteers, or what they learn in short order on the job.  I am also very proud to belong to an occupation that knows, without the trappings of orthodoxy, what it means to be ‘professional’.

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