Whose Fault is It When You Have a Frustrating Volunteer Situation?

Guest post by Rebecca Stiemke

How do you prepare for and manage frustrating volunteer situations?Not long ago, I was going through paper work that our volunteers were responsible for managing. Seems like a simple task, right? At one point I just wanted to toss everything into the basket. I sat there stunned, shaking my head in frustration.

First thought: I can’t give this job to volunteers anymore.

Second thought: Did I play a role in this situation?

As I thought more about it, I realized it was not the fault of the volunteers. They did what I told them to. The thing is, I didn’t thoroughly think through the task I was delegating to them. Thus, they had no idea how this task would fit into their next task.

Most of the time when we have a “not so good experience” with a volunteer, it is actually our own fault. We fail to let them in on all the details. We don’t train them to make sure they understand the job and are able to do it. Most of us don’t even interview. We walk away, let go and move on to other tasks on our plates and hope for the best.

We forget that volunteers are not familiar with the big picture. They aren’t aware of the results we are looking for. Most of the time, unless they have past experience, they only know what we tell them. They just want to give their time to help our cause. It is our job to assess, inform, train, and supervise.

There is no excuse for making a volunteer the fall guy. If they have failed it is because we failed first.

Here are some tips to remember when engaging your next volunteer:

  1. Understand what task you want the volunteer to get involved in. This includes understanding why it is important to your organization – where it fits in the bigger picture of your mission.
  2. Figure out what values and skills a person needs in order to fulfill the job.
  3. Think about the hours needed to accomplish the task. Where does the task need to take place?
  4. How will the volunteer be supervised? Does the supervisor understand their role?
  5. What are the outcomes – how will the volunteer know when he or she is successful?
  6. What are some open ended questions you can ask a potential volunteer when you are interviewing?
  7. What training and orientation is needed?
  8. Do you have a plan to re-direct individuals that are not a good match for the position you are looking to fill?

Once you have answered these questions it is time to start your search for a volunteer.

Volunteers can do amazing things to help your organization. But just like a computer – the results are only as good as what you put into it.

Rebecca Stiemke has nearly 20 years volunteer management experience. She presently blogs at www.SmartFishVMT.com.