Northwest Network - Autumn 2013

Volunteers: How to recruit, select, and train volunteers to do the jobs your organization wants volunteers to do

Saturday, 12 October 2013: 9:00am-5:00pm

The SMILE Station
6704 SE 122nd Ave
Portland, Or 97202


 Alisha Lund-Chaix and Neil Schulman jointly presented this excellent workshop. Their goal was to give us tools with which we could improve how we work with volunteers to achieve our missions. They made good use of the pre-workshop questioner to focus their presentation on aspects of our volunteer programs our responses indicated were less strong.

They began with an overview of what a sound volunteer program requires and the purposes for which it might exist. A volunteer program, they argued, helps you work to accomplish your mission. Secondly, as your organization builds a wider volunteer base and those volunteers become further committed to the purpose for which they are working; community ownership in the organization broadens. Lastly, as the efforts of the volunteers are realized the intrinsic value of your organization to its community grows.

Additionally it was noted that there are some national trends in volunteer behavior that all non-profits need to take into account. While overall there has been an increase in volunteer involvement, there has also been developing a greater interest in short-term projects or event based participation where social interaction is important. This is often described as episodic social volunteering. The interest in long-term volunteer commitments is dwindling. Non-profit organizations are responding, evolving their volunteer programs to provide many options and projects that are short term.

To implement a successful volunteer program the following must be in place: a purpose shared by the board and staff of your organization; staff readiness to work with volunteers; a volunteer recruitment process; a process for intake, screening, and placement; a training program; and then staff capacity for supervising and problem solving. There must also be a recognition program, leadership development, a retention program, a good communication process, clear policies and procedures, a program for tracking hours and accomplishments, and an effort to evolve a healthy volunteer culture. Evolving a good volunteer program is a complex effort.

The results of their survey of indicated, they reported, that the strengths of the GCNN member organizations programs were: shared purpose, staff readiness, recognition, tracking hours and accomplishments, and volunteer culture.

Thus Neil and Alisha focused on recruitment and operations. They urged us to develop a strategic, efficient recruitment program. Of great importance in the recruitment process, when you are identify prospective volunteers, is learning what it is that motivates them to volunteer. If you can match volunteer's motivation with the jobs you want accomplished you have a greater chance of a successful outcome. You are able to select a task that will satisfy them and give them the type of reward they appreciate. Asking yourself the following questions will help you to think about matching your volunteers' motivations with the work you want accomplished: What are your typical volunteer opportunities? Who do you wish you would apply for jobs? Finally, who actually does apply? People volunteer for a variety of reasons: they might want to make contacts, their employer may encourage them, they may want to network for potential jobs, they may want to do something for the greater good, they may want to create something lasting, they may want to learn new skills, they may want to list community service on their resume, or any combination of the above. Statistics indicate that among today's volunteers two types of motivation prevail: mission oriented motivation (cause related reasons) and social-psychological or instrumental motivation (socially related reasons) and most people who volunteer are in the second category.

Secondly, as part of your recruitment process, evaluate a potential volunteer's relationship to your organization. Determine if this individual is a core supporter (one who knows what you do and why you are doing it and is connected with your organization), a likely supporter (someone who is aware of what you do and is sympathetic), someone who is aware of what you do but not engaged, or someone who is disinterested in what you are doing. Rating prospective volunteers this way helps you to define your approach to recruiting them and helps you decide what kinds of projects you ask them to do as a volunteer.

The core group, group one, takes the least time to recruit, usually, because they are familiar with your organization and sympathetic to its goals. The likely supporters, group two, require more time as you need to explain your project, its goals, and how it furthers your mission in more detail to get them to become actively engaged. Yet the group that is aware and not involved, group three, takes even more time as they need to be informed of what in particular you are trying to do and why this is a service, and why they should be involved in its realization. Those who are disinterested in your mission and disengaged, group four, are hard to reach as they most often do not regard what you do as relevant to the community's well being. Most of your recruiting time should be spent talking to likely supporters and those aware, but not involved, as both these groups are a good source of volunteers for projects that help you sustain your organization, building momentum, and increase community awareness. Your core constituents should always have your attention, but do not usually require much recruiting time. Those disinterested should never be forgotten, but the time you spend with them usually builds awareness of your organization and rarely yields volunteers.

If the job you are trying to accomplish is one that is fun, includes social interaction and not difficult, then match it with someone who has a more tangential relationship with your organization. If the person is a part of your core, then give them a job that is critical in advancing your mission. Keep you eyes and ears open so that you consider the perspective of others in the organization and of all the volunteers to your choices. If you are recruiting for a new endeavor studies indicate that you should focus on the first three tiers of supporters and that most of your volunteers will be from the first two groups. If your organization is in a crisis studies indicate that 80-90% of your volunteers come from your core, 10% from those who are aware but not involved. Your efforts at outreach might well include those that are disengaged to explain the crisis so that those groups are aware of how your organization views what has happened. This might help those who have volunteered to help you because your efforts at education in the greater community have created a better general understanding of the situation.

Part of your strategy in growing your volunteer base is discovering what organizations you regard as stakeholders in your mission. In developing your presentation for a group regard as a stakeholder consider the following: Does the project you want accomplished by volunteers benefit them tangibly, visibly, socially, or emotionally? What do you imagine might constrain this stakeholder from participating? What are the stakeholder's perceptions of your organization? Is there someone or some particular approach that you feel would be effective in reaching them? Where does this stakeholder get information that they trust? Is there a particular form of communication, email, texting, or social networking that they prefer? Use the answers to these questions as you network with groups you regard as stakeholders in your area.

Outreach is time consuming. The most effective tactic is to ask people face to face f for assistance and this approach is also the most time consuming. Emails and newsletters sent to new audiences can also be effective, but your rate of success is less.

Once you have recruited a volunteer, then staff operations, become important if you are to get what you want accomplished completed and if you are to keep a volunteer volunteering. Good communication with each volunteer and all volunteers is paramount. Communications really enable your effort and its overall success. Make communications with staff about volunteering easy and direct so people will use them.

If the recruiter has not already done so, once someone has volunteered, your staff must gather data on your new person in an intake interview of some kind. If the person is going to be with the public, then usually some kind of screening is also necessary. The specific job the person is going to do needs to be confirmed. Then the staff needs to train the volunteer so they are able to do their specific task and also well oriented so they are able to work smoothly as part of your organization. This process of working with volunteers is as important to your success and retention as is recruitment.

Events which recognize people for what they have done and those which give volunteers time to enjoy one another's company and do something special are also essential to a strong volunteer program. Having key people in your organization deal directly with the volunteers and give them information on the importance of their efforts to the organization should also be part of your basic operating procedure.

If you would like your volunteer effort to grow, you need to build leadership among your volunteers, partnering new people with experienced people is one way to approach this. Workshops and non-profit training programs are an additional path to help your volunteers gain skills and can be used as a way to encourage further commitment.

If you want to improve your operations, it was suggested, review what you are now doing and ask yourself three questions: Who does what currently? Is there anything one person is doing that others should be doing? What can we do to streamline our processes?

Retaining volunteers given the demands on the individuals in the 21st century and the generational styles of volunteering (please see the attached file on this) is a bit of an uphill battle and one that is not going to get any easier as time passes. Your success with intake, supervision, training, and leadership development of volunteers has a direct and favorable impact on retention. Also important is balancing structure and flexibility so that people can change what they do as volunteers through time and progress, if they desire, to positions of greater responsibility.

If someone is "volunteered out" in your organization and is looking for a fresh experience, you can network with other garden organizations in your area and swap volunteers, thus offset attrition.

Keeping standards for your volunteers high also helps with retention. Volunteers should be involved in establishing and maintaining standards. This effort, thus, encourages volunteers to help one another to maintain standards. Engagement to a purpose usually builds loyalty to one another and a sense of camaraderie.

Always make sure that volunteers are aware of how their contribution makes a difference to the organization and that each volunteer is thanked in a way that is meaningful to them personally. (Someone needs to know this for each volunteer.) All these efforts will help to keep volunteers committed and interested.

General Meeting

Website—the website is up and functioning thanks to Ben Streissguth's efforts and the cooperation of the Garden Conservancy. Ben has listed the site with Google and we shall be working on having non-member gardens link to our website. This will help the GCNN website be more visible on the web. We are going to develop some "possible" itineraries for visiting member gardens regionally.

GCNN Member survey—soon each current member organizations will receive a questioner to complete, on what your organization wants from the GCNN and what has been useful to you.

Workshops for 2013—The GCNN spring workshop will be at Lakewold Gardens in Lakewood, WA near Tacoma. The topic and the date will be determined by vote in November 2013.

Announcement—The Bellevue Botanical Garden received a $150,000.00 grant from Museums for America to expand their existing interpretative programs, building on their previous project to build and interactive visitor map which will be in the visitors' center and develop an application for use on mobile devices. An evaluation program will also be developed so the garden staff will be able to learn and respond to changing visitor interests.

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Last update: 18 February, 2018