Perhaps the most beautiful phrase a volunteer manager can read showed up on page 5 of Tobi Johnson’s new ebook, The New Volunteer Manager: The First 90 Days – “You are not alone.”
As Tobi, a nonprofit and volunteer management consultant with decades of experience creating and expanding impactful programs, explains in the book, all nonprofits focus on these simple questions:
How can we connect with volunteers who share the same passion for your cause? And how do you work in partnership with them to bring about change for the common good? These questions may be simple, but the answers are certainly not.
Tobi has organized these answers for us into easy, readable pieces. The 21 tips in her ebook are targeted to new volunteer managers, but in my mind they can also help current and even veteran managers to optimize their programs and improve their volunteers’ experiences.
There are three general themes that I found over an over again in Tobi’s book. I think she also did a great job providing practical advice for how volunteer managers can apply these concepts right away to our programs:
Measuring impact is important
“Describe What Success Looks Like” is Tip 2, and Tobi emphasizes the value of having a long term vision for your volunteer program, one that provides clarity of purpose and will guide you in your planning.
Tip 16 delves deeper into what it takes to achieve this purpose. Namely, metrics. We must evaluate our programs on an ongoing basis, both quantitatively and qualitatively. And, proving that she really does “get” volunteer managers, Tobi includes a comprehensive list of the metrics that we should be tracking.
Be clear with volunteers
I think it can be stated outright: Your volunteer program will not succeed if you do not establish and maintain clear communication with your volunteers. Tobi builds on this statement throughout the ebook.
First, make sure you’re speaking a language your volunteers can understand. “Volunteers don’t want to hear a bunch of internally-focused ‘501c3 speak made up of jargon they don’t understand,” she says. (Actully, I don’t know anyone that wants to hear that.)
Second, be clear about your expectations of them – and their expectations of you. If you’re on different pages about what they’ll be doing and what they’ll be getting out of their experience, it’s not going to work. Tobi suggests crafting a strong and concise volunteer position description, as well as a volunteer bill of rights.
Finally, it’s important to establish a system that supports and enriches your volunteers throughout their time with you. A well-designed volunteer handbook will help guide them and clear up confusion about roles and responsibilities. It’s also important to build your community by providing valuable content and information on a regular basis. Social media and email are great tools for this. Use them to tell your story and that of your volunteers and beneficiaries. (Incidentally, this could be a great job for a volunteer!)
Harness the power of networks
Tobi does a great job of exhibiting the potential that each of us has to amplify our impact via our networks. To foster greater community and productivity within your volunteer team, utilize technologies like wikis to facilitate collaboration. Also, encourage existing and experienced volunteers to contribute at a deeper level to the development of the program. This gives them a greater feeling of ownership and a stake in your goals.
It’s also important to work closely with other departments and colleagues in your nonprofit. Building these strong bridges will ensure that they are there to support you when you need it, and will teach you all the ways your program can help them, thus increasing your potential impact.
Don’t underestimate the value of your personal network, either. Your friends, family, former coworkers, and even LinkedIn contacts will be useful resources for you when you need advice or a hook-up.
Finally, forming external partnerships with other groups and organizations will enable you to accomplish far more than you ever could with just your nonprofit’s budget, time and manpower, and you’ll incresae your impact without having to pull 30 hour days. Tobi includes a caution to establish a formal partnership agreement that is simple, to the point, and a research-based factor of success for nonprofit collaborations.
And what about after your finish the ebook? What happens after the 90 days? Your learning is not done! There are lots of resources to help you continuously improve your skills, from the VolunteerMatch Learning Center to Tobi’s group, Tobi Johnson & Associates, to the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration. But this ebook is a great place to start, and a great resource to come back to when looking for ways to improve.