Managing the Volunteers

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name]A successful service project hinges on effective volunteer management. This begins from the moment a volunteer signs up for the project. To ensure that you have enough volunteers — and that they are prepared for and interested in the service — consider registering volunteers for the project in advance. This can be as simple as providing a project contact name, phone number, and/or e-mail address that interested volunteers can use to sign up for the project. Pre-registering volunteers will also enable you (or your volunteer recruitment chairperson) to talk in advance with interested volunteers about the skills, supplies, or friends they might also bring to the project.

Advanced Communication

From the moment volunteers sign up to participate in your event, good communication is vital! Try to keep volunteers informed about project happenings and be very clear about what a volunteer should expect while at the project. When communicating with volunteers, always talk openly and professionally. You can never communicate too much or too often with volunteers. You should expect a little performance anxiety with first-time volunteers, whether it is their first time with you or the first time volunteering ever. Staying in touch with volunteers will help them begin to feel an attachment to you and to the project even before they arrive.

When managing a volunteer project, one of your objectives is to make the project such a great experience that volunteers return again and again. To make your project one that volunteers will love, it is helpful to understand what they might be thinking. The following list of questions offers you an opportunity to think about your project from the perspective of a volunteer. Be able to answer the following from the volunteer’s perspective:

  • What time is the project? How do I get there? Can I get there by public transportation or a shuttle? If I drive, will parking be available?
  • When I arrive, what will I see? How will I know where to go? Who will greet me? What tasks can sign up for? What should I wear? What should I bring? Will I get clear directions on what to do? Will I understand why this work is important to the community? Will my participation is enthusiastically received? Will food and beverages be provided? Is what’s being asked of me reasonable? Is it safe and do I have the capability to do it? How will I know that they really need me to get the work done? Will this be fun? Is the project happening going to be exciting, positive, and productive?
  • Does someone check with me after I start working? Is there someone readily available to answer questions as I work on my task? Will there be enough work to do and adequate materials and supplies to complete it? During the project, where can I go to take a break, store my belongings, get something to drink, warm up, or cool down? Can I be reassigned to another task if I don’t enjoy what I’m doing or feel I’m not effective?
  • After the work is finished, who will let me know if what I did was important and effective? Was I appreciated for my time and contributions? If I have questions, will it be easy to get accurate and complete answers? If I have an idea or a complaint, how do I give input or make a suggestion? What made me want to sign up for this project?

Compile a list of things volunteers should know about your project (e.g., what to wear, what to bring, what to expect at the project, who and when to meet, etc.) and compose an e-mail greeting to send to all the volunteers who sign up for your project. Contact volunteers with a phone call or e-mail that:

  • Introduces you (or another staff person, partner, or volunteer) as the project leader
  • Thanks them for volunteering
  • Provides the date and time of the project, service site address, directions, and parking information
  • Describes what will occur at the project
  • Lets volunteers know what to wear (or not wear) to the project
  • Encourages volunteers to bring supplies they may have
  • Tells volunteers whom to contact if they have a change in plans
  • Directions to the site and information on parking and public transportation
  • A final thank you

Communicate these things to volunteers when they register and again the week of the project. If you include task/job descriptions, make sure the descriptions are clear about any special skills required to participate in the task. The need for special clothing, gloves, hats, sunscreen, bug spray, or power tools should be communicated clearly.

Click the link to download a helpful form for sending project details to volunteers: VolunteerProjectInfoForm.pdf