“What were they thinking?!”
If you’ve ever thought this at the end of a volunteer’s job, you know things can get ridiculous when volunteers decide to go rogue. If you think back though, maybe they didn’t have a clear understanding of their expectations or some accountability to back that up. So, what can you do to avoid more “what the heck?” moments in the future?
Like many things, it starts with clear communication. This communication may be in an email, in a meeting, over the phone, or face-to-face, but know that it has to happen. Volunteers need way more than “welcome to the team,” so this is the perfect opportunity to lay out some expectations and opportunity for accountability. This will not only give them the direction they need to get started, but also will give you more peace of mind and a greater confidence in your volunteers.
Top five things to define with volunteers as their volunteer coordinator:
When a volunteer first starts, let them know what they will be doing. Will they hand out t-shirts or be responsible for the entire check-in table? Will they be in charge of the design concepts or will they merely be using assets already created to make a flyer? Let them know what they are responsible for so they can fulfill their duties. Ask if they have questions, and then ask them to tell you their plans to carry out their mission. Having a discussion or some form of response will give you both an indicator of whether or not you are on the same page.
Although it may sound redundant to you, communicate the goals and impact of what they will be doing and the goals and impact of the event overall. Maybe they know their role, but they don’t understand the big picture. Realizing how their part impacts other volunteers, the organization, and even the community will create a sense of ownership and accountability for the volunteer. That way, they know that if they back out last minute or miss a deadline, several people will be negatively impacted.
While you’ve got spreadsheets and lists and everything you might need as the volunteer coordinator, sometimes you forget to tell the volunteer what their timeline is. Add in a bit of buffer time, but then tell the volunteer when something is due. For instance, if someone is working on a newsletter for you, let them know when the first draft is due, when you need the revisions back, and when you want to send it—not just the final date you want to send it by. Or, if they are working a shift at an event, let them know when they’ll be done. No volunteer likes to stand around waiting to see if you or someone else will return to let them know if/when they can go home. Without a clear idea of start and end dates, volunteers may bail on you.
Tell volunteers who they should first report to, especially if it isn’t you. Explain the role of the supervisor or person above them and then provide contact information for them. Volunteers need to know who to go to if they have questions or problems, but supervisors also need to be given the introduction in order to show authority when needed.
If you have a long project or even a long shift, make it clear what your checkpoints will be throughout the process. That way volunteers know you will be available for questions and you continue to communicate the vision of their role throughout its duration. After the duties have been completed, be sure to follow up for feedback in a survey or meeting to provide accountability for both you and the volunteer.
Defining everything volunteers need to know ahead of time means you have to be organized, and you have to communicate. That means you can’t be running around doing everything last minute yourself. Instead, you’ll need to be focusing your attention on empowering your volunteers. In the end, it’s worth it when volunteers not only complete their tasks but do so with a clear understanding of their goals and expectations—minus the frustration or miscommunication.