3 min read

Don’t forget the People in the Process

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Over the years I have had the opportunity to write and edit hundreds of articles, reports, blogs and even a few books on the topic of volunteerism.

So when Susan Ellis approached me a few years ago to write a module on the topic of ‘Interviewing, Screening and Placing volunteers’ for her excellent online training program Everyone Ready , I was keen to get on with the process of pulling it all together.

There was however one small but fundamental difference in the type of writing that was required. Instead of creating a text which learners would be reading, this exercise required me to write a ‘script’, which I would later record for students to listen to.

Now that may not sound like such a diversion from the norm but believe me, in spite of all the experience I have had, the exercise required me to have a complete re-think about what I wrote, how I structured the text and even the tact I took to describe the various elements within it.

I am happy to say the final product is terrific (even if I do say so myself) and the opportunity to create a training piece outside the way I’d normally write something was a terrific learning opportunity.

So in addition to being a shameless plug for Everyone Ready, what has this got to do with a hot topic for this month?

Well it got me thinking yet again about how we, as Volunteer Program Managers, need to balance the way we recruit new volunteers and deal with our teams in an ongoing way thereafter.

In 2006, we ran the Australasian Retreat for Advanced Volunteer Management with the theme ‘Have we gone too far’? What we tried to achieve at that event, was to ask experienced practitioners in the field of volunteer management if they thought we may have traveled ‘too far’ down the road of professionalising volunteerism – and whether through that, we may have made some of our programs a little too impersonal to volunteers (new and existing) in the process.

The exercise of writing the training module for Susan reminded me that it is really important that from time to time we view what we do through the eyes of a different audience – in this case, potential volunteers coming to our organisation for the first time – to assess whether or not the process we are using to recruit volunteers is a friendly and inviting one and not one which is clinical and impersonal.

While we hear a lot about the new breed of confident and brash volunteers, let us never forget that for many people approaching our programs for the first time, the very act of calling our office may be a giant brave step into uncharted territory.

Consider the following:

  • How does a potential new team member find out about your volunteer opportunities?
  • What messages do they receive from your website and other promotional materials?
  • How easy do you make it for someone to get engaged?
  • How quickly do you follow up with inquiries?
  • When someone calls or visits your office for the first time, how might they perceive your operations? (physical location, reception staff, decor etc)

The above questions (and more) do not apply just to new volunteers. Consider the same types of questions of your returning and regular volunteers. Is there a risk that after a while you are taking them for granted, assuming that an annual volunteer week party will cover a multitude of neglect throughout the course of a year?

The challenge for our programs is to find that delicate balance between being supportive of the needs of volunteers while at the same time being professional in everything we do, and with limited resources this becomes an ever increasingly difficult thing to do. By placing ourselves in the place of volunteers from time to time, we can begin to ensure that our programs don’t forget the ‘volunteer’ part of that balancing act.

It is worth remembering that regardless of whether we call our profession: volunteer administration, volunteer program management, community development or even human resource or personnel management, we are in the game of engaging people in meaningful activity, and my message this month is quite a simple one: be sure you are not forgetting people in the name of process or progress.

So let’s hear from you:

  • Do you have difficulty giving your volunteers as much attention as you’d like as the paperwork piles up around you?
  • Do you have tips you can share with others about how you have overcome these difficulties?
  • Have you created innovative roles that ensure new and existing volunteers are well supported in your program?
  • Do you have any other thoughts about this topic you would like to share?