Allen Wente wants his volunteers to have the same meaningful experience that he enjoyed. Here’s how he does that.
Last week, I threw out an impromptu question to the participants of a webinar that I held for AL!VE. I asked how many of the listeners had served as volunteers for their nonprofit before joining the staff. My guess was that many of the volunteer managers started out as volunteers and I was right – the vast majority came to their work with plenty of pre-existing knowledge of the needs and the rewards of volunteering for their cause. They get it – and their prior volunteer experience helps to strengthen their programs.
Allen Wente was not on the webinar – I met him through my talented colleague Tobi Johnson – but this volunteer manager falls into the “formerly a volunteer” category and then kicks it up a notch. Back in college, Allen not only served in his fraternity, Delta Tau Delta – he founded the chapter after finding himself unimpressed with the other Greek options at his school. Delta Tau Delta “strives to develop young men committed to lives of excellence,” a mission that aligned with Allen’s personal values.
Now, Allen is the Director of Volunteer Services for Delta Tau Delta. He is responsible for managing 650 volunteers in 140 different chapters. Most of the fraternity’s volunteers serve as Chapter Advisors to the undergrad officers. But being a membership-based organization, the fraternity depends on volunteers to serve as Division Presidents, Division Vice Presidents, and as staff for all kinds of conferences.
As Allen puts it, Delta Tau Delta is “a program for volunteers made possible by volunteers.”
So what’s different when a volunteer manager works for a volunteer-driven organization? Some of the challenges are the same as for any nonprofit volunteer program. Allen must stay on top of volunteer recruitment onboarding, training, recognition, and evaluation practices – just as we all do.
What’s different is the empowerment of the volunteers to make decisions that affect their experience. This year, Allen set up volunteer committees to explore ways to streamline volunteer onboarding, explore certification options for experienced volunteers, and identify meaningful recognition practices. While Allen is the facilitator of a process, it’s the volunteers who determine the outcomes.
Take the recognition committee, which, is working on a chapter-specific recognition plan – a toolkit with ideas that may be tailored to the needs of each chapter. The recognition ideas that the committee collects and considers are all personal, relationship-based and intended to demonstrate how much Delta Tau Delta values its volunteers – gestures like sending flowers to a volunteer’s wife on an anniversary or recognizing the birthday of an advisor’s child.
For Allen, the committee work is a reflection of his personal desire to improve his program. “You always want to be doing something better,” Allen observed. For others in the nonprofit world, this level of engagement may inspire more of us to turn to the volunteers themselves to elevate our programs.
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This volunteer manager knows fraternity life inside & out – & that’s great for the volunteers, http://goo.gl/7vC1sA @THNonprofit @volpronet
Elisa Kosarin, CVA coaches, trains, and consults on volunteer management. She believes volunteers are a powerful force for change in our communities — if they are managed by volunteer engagement pros with the skills to cultivate this resource.