4 burning questions on training and retaining volunteers – answered
Posted Thursday, July 28th, 2016 by Verified Volunteers Staff
Last week, Beth Steinhorn, President of JFFixler Group presented the second webinar in the Lifecycle of a Volunteer 3-part webinar series presented by Verified Volunteers. Called Training and Retaining, Beth offered up tons of great tips and recommendations for building an effective training and retention program at your organization. She also helped to answer a number of audience questions. It’s always helpful to present those more popular inquiries to the wider audience who could not make it to the session (but, remember, the webinar is still available on-demand, here!)
Audience Question 1
Do you believe that there should be a minimum requirement for volunteers in terms of hours or time period (e.g. six months of continuous engagement)?
According to Beth, setting minimums for traditional volunteer roles can be considered reasonable. What does that mean? If your volunteers are working in an ongoing position that does not have a defined start and end date, and is not governed by a specific outcome, you might ask them to commit to spending a certain number of hours per week or month. But if your volunteer is working in a project-based role and is tasked, for instance, with building a new website for your organization, then setting minimum time commitments is less important or relevant than agreeing upon the results you are seeking. In other words, agreeing on the critical elements to include in the new website is much more important than figuring out how many hours the volunteer will work. The volunteer agrees to contribute as many hours as it takes to develop the website.
Regarding ongoing volunteers and minimum time commitments, organizations do need to recognize that we are in a different era than we were in 20 years ago. People do not have the free time or ability to commit to, say, a 4 hour shift each week for a full year. Make the minimum lower or more flexible. For example, if your technology allows, enable your volunteers to create their own schedules and sign up for open volunteer slots, so that they are not married to a particular time slot each week or month, but can shift according to their own work and family commitments.
Audience Question 2
How can you teach your volunteers about the importance of commitment to their volunteer role/organization?
Truly, it is not about teaching per se, but rather about setting expectations and holding volunteers accountable right from the very beginning. That means proper screening. During the screening process and the volunteer interview, organizations should clearly communicate to potential volunteers what is expected of this volunteer in terms of commitment and outcomes. The interviewer should get a verbal or written clear acknowledgement that the expectations are understood by the volunteer and that the volunteer is able to meet expectations and time commitments. If not, they may not be the right fit for the role.
Audience Question 3
Any tips on making boring volunteer roles more attractive?
One essential piece when it comes to making the more mundane volunteer role a bit more enticing is to gather input from those volunteers and staff who are engaged in the role. Ask them how you can change the role to make it more exciting for them. There may be the potential to pair a mundane task with a more exciting but related task, so the role as a whole is split between some more fun activities and some more boring ones. Most importantly, though, you must be sure to communicate impact for any volunteer role. Even boring tasks are necessary for an organization to achieve its mission. If you draw a line between a volunteer’s activity and the mission of your organization, no matter what the activity is, it will make the work more attractive.
Audience Question 4
Sometimes staff members can be intimidated by volunteers. Can you offer any tips to encourage staff to embrace the idea of volunteers and intermingle with volunteers more?
It all comes down to training and professional development. If you support your paid staff and offer them training and professional development related to volunteer engagement, they will be more engaged with your volunteer team and program. Help them, through this training and development program, set expectations with volunteers and communicate the impact of volunteer work to the volunteer team.
Read the previous blogs in this series:
For more tips and tools from Beth Steinhorn, see the JFFixler Group website at jffixler.com.