You’ll be high-fiving, too, if your program employs these five practices to build a culture of volunteer appreciation

Five Hacks - Twenty HatsIf you spend time getting to know your volunteer manager colleagues you will notice that there are two kinds of volunteer programs out there:

  • The ones that are staff-driven and use volunteers to complement or extend the reach of their programs.

In hindsight, I would say that working within the first category made my job much easier. The paid staff was focused entirely on supporting the volunteers so that they could realize the program’s mission. And because we interacted directly and frequently with the volunteers, it was not difficult to establish the kind of strong personal connection with volunteers that boosts retention.

Volunteer management becomes more challenging in a larger, staff-driven organization, when your job is to engage volunteers and then place them in the hands of others in remote locations. Then, the question becomes:

How do you maintain a heart-centered culture of appreciation when the volunteers are no longer under your direct control?

Corina Sadler

Corina Sadler, CVA, makes volunteer appreciation a priority in a program with more than 7,300 volunteers

At least one volunteer engagement pro achieves that goal, and that’s Corina Sadler, CVA, the Volunteer Coordinator for the City of Plano Texas.  Corina’s program recruits screens, and places over 7,300 volunteers within the city. The volunteers are then supervised by program staff within each department.

When I asked Corina how she maintained a volunteer-centric culture within her very large organization she shared five practices that make a difference:

  1. Train − and re-train on how to work with volunteers

Corina holds a required staff training on volunteer management twice a year. Volunteer appreciation is always included as a topic, including low-cost ways to thank volunteers.  When possible, she exposes her coordinators to thought leaders within the profession.− last year she livestreamed the AL!VE Hybrid Conference.

  1. Check in frequently

Close communication is a priority.  Corina checks in regularly with each department, offering support and helping to troubleshoot any issues with volunteers. Her check-ins are backed up by the reports that she runs every month. If she notices low numbers for a particular volunteer, she will call the department to follow up and check on the volunteer.

  1. Make volunteer appreciation easy

To simplify the work of the coordinators, Corina’s office collects gift items for departments to distribute as thank you gifts to the volunteers.  She will ask about volunteers who may be experiencing an illness or surgery, and send out a card to the volunteer. And because the volunteers are culturally diverse, Corina tracks and then encourages the departments to celebrate important observances, such as Chinese New Year, Diwali or a special time in the volunteer’s life like a new grandbaby or anniversary.

  1. Recognize the programs with successful volunteers

Corina collects volunteer success stories and features them wherever they offer visibility for the volunteers – and the staff who supervise them. That means stories are videotaped for TV segments as often as they are included in newsletter.  She also encourages the staff to nominate their volunteers for awards.

The fifth and final practice may be the most important one of all:

  1. Designate the person with the best people skills to manage the volunteers – regardless of their job title.

One staff member within each department is designated as the volunteer contact, and that person may hold any position. It does not matter if that person is a manager or an admin – it’s the fit for the position that matters. When turnover occurs, Corina asks the outgoing staffer to identify a replacement who will maintain close connections with the volunteers.

As Corina observes, when a large volunteer program wants to retain a personal touch, “It takes a special person to keep that program going.”

Tweet this Post!  Feel to share Corina’s five practices with this tweet:

This CVA assigns volunteer coordinators by their people-skills, not their job title,