Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

How to increase accountability when managing volunteers.

When volunteers are not meeting agreed-upon deliverables, how can we improve their performance and make them accountable when we’re keenly aware that they’re not being paid for their services?

In my experience, the most effective way to manage volunteers is to shift this perspective and expect the same quality of service and provide the same support and guidance that you would receive from, or provide to, an employee. Remember that as long as the role is clearly defined the volunteer is choosing to fulfill the role and responsibilities. Therefore, they’re choosing to be responsible for the deliverables.

If you’re seeking ways to more effectively lead and manage volunteers—and increase accountability—here are just a few ideas and strategies to consider:

– When recruiting volunteers, be realistic when defining the time and task commitments for each role versus minimizing the commitment in order to attract volunteers. If you’re not familiar with the volunteer role you’re recruiting for, learn more about the current responsibilities, and/or create new ones based on the current goals. Then be sure the role is documented. Any checklists or job descriptions that you can provide the volunteer candidate will help them make a sound decision. A job description will also help to create accountability and offer a basis for performance discussions, if necessary, after they’ve accepted the role.

– Give volunteer candidates a few days to think about their choice to commit after they’ve been given information about the role(s). Set a time to follow up with them and let them know that you’ll be OK with their choice either way as you understand it’s a serious commitment. This approach confirms that there are expectations that call for a commitment to deliver.

– If you inherit existing volunteers—and you want to reiterate accountability—you may want to hold one-on-one meetings to review their roles and responsibilities. The checklist or job description will help reinforce expectations. The existing volunteers will then have the freedom to re-choose the “job” based on the current expectations.

– Remind volunteers that at any time if they find themselves unable to fulfill their volunteer roles, based on personal or professional demands, they should feel comfortable approaching you to back out of—or perhaps minimize—their commitment moving forward.

– Let volunteers know that in addition to your being available as needed, you’ll facilitate regular one-on-one meetings by phone or in person to provide the opportunity to exchange feedback and offer support along the way. Assure them that you’ll address concerns promptly, if they voice them. And let them know that you hope they’ll do the same if they have any concerns along the way.

– When discussing assignments be sure that you’re agreeing on measurable outcomes with specific target dates. If target dates are not met, be sure to contact the person the very next day to acknowledge the missed target and ask about the expected deliverable and when you can expect to receive it. Your prompt follow up on a missed deliverable sets a clear standard for meeting target dates in the future.

Contributing through volunteerism can be a rich experience for us and for those that we lead. These few strategies can also make a significant difference in the results we generate and in our enjoyment of the “job”.



  Deborah Lovelace wrote @

I agree with what I have read here. Slightly over a year ago I began my position as Volunteer Coordinator for a non-profit hospice organization. Quite an awakening as I inherited 30+ volunteers and lost over 75% due to living in a college town with graduation and students leaving to go home. My challenge was to change the balance to a more homogeneous mix of permanent residents and college students. My new recruits were receptive to me; but how was I to keep my remaining veteran volunteers. I needed to gain trust. I held a luncheon where we all finally met and started small rewards along the way ( a write-up in the paper regarding one volunteer going above and beyond, in-service with lunch, cards, etc.) I have called volunteers when they do not get their reports in on a timely matter and discussing how to help them do so and the impact on my job when they fall short. At times I have had to let someone go. I find that at least monthly contact with an email, newsletter or phone call keeps everyone in the loop and helping them to feel their importance as a part of our team. I have an application to fill out just as an employee would have along with a job description and an interview process that is a minimum of an hour. I hold training sessions and review through out the year and an annual recognition to them. I am happy to say I am now 50 volunteers strong who all give of their hearts and time to our team!

  donnarawadyblog wrote @

Thanks for sharing your experience and successes Deborah! Interesting, and good for you…and your volunteers.

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