Can Volunteer Centres Become the Hub of Volunteer Excellence …Again

When I started my career in volunteer management at the Volunteer Centre of Toronto many years ago, a volunteer centre was the mecca of knowledge on volunteerism, volunteer management, recruitment, recognition, and retention. In those days, there were multiple physical sites across Toronto focussed on the communities that they were located. This was where non-profits went for guidance, knowledge, and recruitment.

Volunteer centres were where leaders of volunteers leaned on for expertise, for “what’s new in the world of volunteerism”, where you collectively recruited volunteers.

Fast forward to 2022, we now have apps to find volunteers, social media to talk about volunteering, volunteer management database companies offering training for administrators of volunteers and a new breed of volunteers whose motivation is very different than pre-covid.

Where do the volunteer centres fit in now? How can they be seen as the knowledge centre, the hub for excellence, the place organizations can go to get help or just to support each other? What is their role?

Is volunteer management taking steps back during these unsettled times? We need to ensure that it does not happen. We need to have a collective voice about what is happening in volunteerism. We need to have a collective voice on ensuring that we are educated in volunteer management in best practices that reflect now, not twenty years ago.

We need a common vision about what volunteerism and volunteer management should look like in the next 3 to 5 years.

So, who drives that? 

Should it be the volunteer centres that take a lead collectively? Is one strong voice louder than many small voices saying many different things?

Here are some areas that I think volunteer centres could focus on if they are not already.

Education of both volunteers and administrators of volunteers.

If the colleges are not willing to teach volunteer management as a profession, then volunteer centres could be offering a program that fills this huge gap. This would be a great form of collaboration for volunteer centres to band together.

 As someone who teaches thousands of leaders and administrators of volunteers, I know that the foundations of volunteer management, strategic planning and many other topics need to to be taught at not just a the beginner level but also at the leadership level so that volunteer management has a voice and a seat at the table and respected as a profession.

Volunteer centres should be engaging in building partnerships amongst organizations, communities, and the private sector

There is so much potential if organizations and local businesses could find ways to collaborate through volunteer engagement, fundraising and awareness so that local communities can continue to thrive. I think Volunteer Centres could be the head of this brain trust.

There is a push in other genres that have been successful in these types of collaboration. The music industry has recognized the value in the economic potential of bringing local neighbourhoods, local business associations and music together for a win, win, win…. why can’t we look at doing that for non-profits?

Finally, volunteer centres should be creative and proactively engaging in communities to show the value of not just volunteerism but also about volunteer programs lead by professionals especially after so many program cuts during the pandemic and the economic uncertainty.

I believe that volunteer centre should be the cutting edge of creativity, resource and learning and a voice for local government. As the name states, volunteer centre should be the centre of knowledge, collaboration, volunteer recruitment, volunteerism awareness…I could go on forever.

I have seen some wonderful work and collaborations from many volunteer centres across Canada and around the world and look forward to seeing what is coming down the pipeline.

For more information or a chat feel free to reach out.

For more articles and presentations go to


Is Your Board Resignation Proof?

By Lori Gotlieb

Sitting on a board is huge responsibility and not something to be taken lightly. As an individual, a board member has the responsibility of ensuring that the board that they sit on is acting on behalf of the organizations’ best interest and in a responsible and diligent fashion.

Over the past few years, we have seen many boards collapse, board members quit and difficulties in finding new board members. 

There are many reasons why boards can fail and there are many small steps that organizational leaders, specifically the Board Chair/President and the Executive Director should be putting into place to minimize risk and challenges amongst the board.

Here are some simple steps that can be adopted (if not already) to help mitigate risks and engage board members in meaningful ways.

Onboarding process:

Develop a plan for onboarding new board members that include the following:

Orientation package that has some historical information including past minutes

Written role description and policies and procedures such as code of conduct and conflict of interest 

Personal phone call with an experienced board member to help support and answer any questions

Provide support from past board member on an ongoing basis (this is a great role of an outgoing board member)

Follow up after the first three months on the board to ensure that 

Ongoing education and board training:

This is a step that should not be skipped. There is not enough board training happening that is related to best practices, communication, teambuilding, and conflict resolution. As well, it is important to also ensure that members have strategic planning training to ensure that all members are on the same page.

There should be an expectation that all board members need to attend trainings so that everyone is taught the same, and therefore if there are issues then you have the done your due diligence as leaders to a minimum, provide content to establish the best practices for all members.

Retention health checks:

One of the biggest challenges for board members is not about the actual work itself but more about the relationships within the board. Respect for differences is key to success. If one does not check in regularly then in many cases, by the time there are conflicts amongst members, it is too late. 

Finally, and an important component that is missed is offboarding.

How are you going to know what is working and not working if you do not ask? This step is so important for the continued health of the board and an important step for the individual as they leave their position. This step gives the individual an opportunity to share their experience and if managed well, will leave them with a good feeling about their experience and they will become a positive advocate for your organization and potential recruiter for the next generation of leaders.

Over the years I have taught hundreds of board and committee members and the commonalities of the breakdown of boards sit in the lack of support, education and communication and transparency from the leadership. 

It is never too late to start supporting boards and the individuals who lead the organizations’ strategic direction.

For more articles and Board workshops go to or contact at

An example of a board orientation checklist will help you to get started:

New Board Member Orientation Checklist

Board Orientation Process:

Orientation package sent

Personal phone call or meeting with an experienced board member

Follow up personal contact after first three months on board

Board orientation package:

Statement of purpose or charter

Volunteer position description

Brief overview of the operations

Financials (if applicable)

By laws

Policies or brief overview of expectations of the board and the activities that they are engaged in

List of board members and contact information and terms of offices

List of committees with chairperson identified

List of meeting dates and places

Organizational chart

Minutes of most recent board meetings

All forms signed and filed (confidentiality etc…)

Board orientation meeting:

Opportunity for personal introductions amongst new and experienced board members

More formal introduction by nominating committee, highlighting backgrounds and credentials of new members

Brief presentation by experienced board members explaining board role and procedures

Clear statement of expectations of the board, including how roles work together

Follow up Contact after three months:

Opportunity for general discussion and comments

Opportunity to get involved in committees-if not, discussion re: barriers and problem solving

Request for feedback or orientation process

Building A Healthy Non-profit Board/Committee

By Lori Gotlieb

The success of a healthy board or committee is instrumental for an organizations’/associations’ growth and sustainability. The board and supporting committees and volunteers have the opportunity to define, lead and encourage their members to engage in a variety of activities that reflect the needs both the organization and the community they serve.

Over the years there have been issues with nonprofit boards and their practices in transparency, risk management, succession planning, strategic planning and evaluation or offboarding of Board members.

I remember many years ago when I left a board position, that there was no follow up or “offboarding” where the Chair of the Board could have had an opportunity to get some feedback as to why I was departing the position. I think that there should be an opportunity for those that leave boards to discuss “lessons learned” so that the continued growth of the Board could benefit from the knowledge accumulated by exiting board members.

Below I have outlined some foundational steps that all board and committees should ensure is in place. 

Board members should:

  • Know and support all policies and practices, targets and goals including conflict of interest and code of conduct
  • Participate in board training on a regular basis
  • Attend all board meetings and committee meetings to provide input and ensure full board participation
  • Have had an opportunity to read all materials that will be discussed at meetings prior to the meetings
  • Have a current role description that clearly defines their responsibilities and expectations
  • Be willing to lead or support the efforts of committees and volunteers
  • Participate in understanding, approving and providing input in annual budgets, audits and financial reports
  • Participate in the development of strategic planning
  • Engage in an evaluation process to measure success of the annual activities with period check ins against goals
  • Review and adjust goals and expectations of their role, committee and activities on a 3month, 6month and annual basis
  • Update goals as they change (key for baseline measurement, metrics and planning for recognition)

What defines board excellence?

  • The Board should understand their mission, vision and goals
  • Positive lines of communication between all board members (this is where the ball drops most of the time)
  • Continuous education to ensure that all members are getting the same messages and are on the same page (no room for interpretation)
  • Transparency, transparency, transparency
  • The mission should drive the annual work plan 
  • Engage in strategic planning and track the process and timelines. 
  • Track the planning process, assign responsibilities and celebrate milestones along the way
  • Build a positive public image while communicating a collective message to the general public
  • Define the roles of board members through volunteer role descriptions that provide parameters of responsibilities, accountabilities, benefits and experiences
  • By-laws and terms of references need to evaluated regularly

Key elements to consider for Board Composition:

  • Ensure board has the capacity to lead and has the required time and skill sets to achieve the goals
  • Utilize skills and talents of individual members by keeping track of the extensive skills and talents in a skills bank. This information become evident as you go through the board recruitment process.
  • Plan for succession on an annual basis
  • Stagger terms of office for board members for seamless transitions
  • Identify gaps and planning to remove those gaps
  • Develop role descriptions of all members. This is key for many reasons including recognition, retention and risk management
  • Cultivating potential board members 
  • Recruiting for: 
    • diversity
    • passion
    • experience
    • willingness to learn
    • balanced board
    • expertise
  • Provide a structured orientation process and designate a lead volunteer to facilitate 
  • Review annually
    • policies
    • procedures
    • manuals
    • Committee structures for effectiveness
  • Monitor the health of the board annually

Succession planning:

Have a plan.

Succession planning is not a reactive activity. Planning is a key component to making sure that you have a smooth transition from one volunteer to another. Set timelines to measure success.

Share information

Recruitment and growth of volunteers in not a role that you need to do alone. Finding the right volunteer to fill a role is the responsibility for the whole board. It is important to share your needs with others and keep a running dialogue, especially since volunteers may not know there are opportunities available.

Identify roadblocks

Knowing where you are going to be challenged in filling a position early will help you to avoid roadblocks. One solution is to build a mentorship component to this role so that the volunteer who is in the position begins to teach their successor as they are performing their duties, elevating some of the anxiety of the transition

Develop a process for mentoring, coaching and shadowing

By developing a tiered approach to succession planning through a mentorship, coaching or shadowing component, you can create a smooth transition into the role

Use technology

Technology can be a great asset for training and education for specific roles. By populating your website with education and resource tools you can alleviate the concerns of volunteers who may not understand the role or require support to fulfil their responsibilities. There are many ways to build in support through technology. You can provide a virtual support team to provide tools, resources and expertise to educate and support volunteers.

Use your networks to target great talent

We are very well connected but we don’t always take the time to think about our relationships and connections. We have access to many resources, people and organizations that can help us to plan for succession as well as recruit great volunteers. Engage champions to lead.

Overall, the success of a board is a collective effort that is led by the Chair/President and monitored annually. Over the last few years, boards have struggled to recruit, engage and retain members and a solid strategic plan will help to minimize the barriers to success.

If capacity is limited, I would consider looking at policies and procedures and role descriptions and ensure that they are reflective of the world that we live in now. That would be a strong first step.

Screening, dating or both: How to approach your volunteer interview

Volunteering trends can be effected by economic, social, technological and political shifts in our communities and as leaders in the field we should be both aware of and responsive to these trends and how they will cascade into our volunteer programs. 

One of the first clues of these shifts is reflective in the types of inquiries for volunteering both through requests internally for different types of volunteers and interest from different types of volunteers than you are used to attracting.

Our role as leaders of our volunteer programs is to both:

  • Find opportunities to respond to the different requests from the volunteers through the initiation of a stakeholder assessment
  • Recognize and engage in dialogue with potential volunteers to develop a skill based opportunity that would be an asset to your organizations

 Though volunteer management processes are as varied as the organizations themselves, one process that should be consistent is the interview. 

This stage of the volunteer cycle is key to learning about the volunteer: who they are and how they can make a difference in a meaningful way.

Volunteers are not clear as to what the expectations of this meeting are and it our responsibility to communicate the purpose but also to have an open mind to see where the conversation leads.

It is our role to set the stage for the interview to encourage dialogue and comfort so the potential volunteer can feel comfortable to discuss their:

  • Skills
  • Experience
  • Motivation
  • Hobbies
  • Expectations
  • Personal goals
  • Passions

Many articles have been published on what is considered skills based volunteering, which this type of interviewing will bring to light and we need to understand that as the nature of volunteering continues to evolve, our processes need to reflect this. 

So the question is; are we taking this time to only screen or are we allowing a conversation to start where each party learns from each other and you “get to know each other”, like on a first date?

The first date concept is more of a conversation, where both parties are exploring the opportunity to partner in a mutually beneficial relationship.

These conversations are more explorational in nature and may require another meeting.

Whether we are looking at episodic or long term volunteering, it is a key responsibility of the volunteer program to embed a volunteer management strategy that incorporates the opportunities and value that skill based volunteering can provide and this starts with these types of conversations.

What can you do to begin this process?

  • Initiate an internal stakeholder analysis to find out what skills would be beneficial to your programs goals and objectives
  • Start an open dialogue with your colleagues to educate them on the types of volunteers that are inquiring to help
  • Build an interview process that allows for a blend of exploratory questions and basic knowledge transfer between you and the volunteer to lay the foundation of the conversation
  • Keep the conversation going, it may be happen at that meeting but you may want to take their information and explore internally where their skills may be of greatest value
  • Tell the stories to your stakeholders and communities…what is the impact of this type of volunteering
  • Be open to new ideas
  • Train those who interview to be creative and open-minded

As you start this process and grow this culture of creativity in your volunteer program, you will find that your colleagues will consider how volunteers can be an asset to their programs and reach out to you for your expertise in connecting unique volunteers to unique roles.

Hopefully this will be a beginning of a wonderful relationship…………..

Is Effective Communication Becoming Obsolete by Technology?

By Lori Gotlieb

The ability to communicate effectively is an essential life skill and everyone has their own style that they naturally adapt and develop to suit the different environments they operate in. Our need to educate, inform, persuade, or entertain drives our communications.

Leaders must carefully consider the kind of culture they want for their organizations.

Communications is an area that is constantly misused and misunderstood.  We communicate in so many different ways to so many different audiences and with the introduction to virtual teams and remote work environments, communication through technology has become an integral part of the success of the organization’s strategies and operations.

There are some important basic components to communication that you need to consider:

  • How much of a focus do you put on what you are communicating and who you are communication to?
  • How are you communicating?
  • What is your message and what is the expected outcome of that message?
  • How often are you communicating to our stakeholders?
  • How do you handle poor response rates?
  • What happens if you have poor communication?

With poor communication practices you could see the following happen:

  •  You do not get message out to the right audience there is a risk of lost time
  • Your message can get confused and you have to resend it multiple times
  • There is a risk of miscommunication, so ensure that you are saying what you mean to say
  • You could start a pattern of negativity or gossip through your poor messaging
  • You could put your audience at risk if they do not have the right information at the right time
  • There is a risk of lost potential if you are not clear and concise 
  • There is a risk of fatigue, where your audience stops reading your messages because the content becomes repetitive

Noise is everywhere.

 Noise is the surrounding factors that are attached to any message that can confuse the message from getting to the right audience in a clear and concise way.

Noise includes: jargon, distracting pictures and words, length of message, frequency of message and competition from other messages.

Think about the holiday day season and all the requests for donations all at the same time?

Appearance is important.

Try not to hide your message in a lot of verbiage. if it is important information make it clear and to the point. You need to use the right vehicle for the right message. Using the social media platforms effectively takes attention and new content regularly. 

Language is more physical than the words themselves.

When we talk, the majority of our message is presented through our physiology not the words themselves…think about that next time you need to make a speech or have a serious conversation with someone. Understand the intergenerational differences on communication styles. Is looking at your cellphone during a zoom call disrespectful or the norm? 

Best practices helps you to focus on:

  • Listening to your audience and identify the goals you want to reach…this is active listening
  • Engaging others in your communication strategy and test out the message before you send it out
  • Creating timelines and plan your marketing and communication strategies
  • Learning from your history and evaluate the impact of your messages
  • Building on your communication strategies and re-engage when appropriate, this will help you build on your community engagement strategy
  • Following the 7 Cs of communication:
    • Clear
    • Concise
    • Correct
    • Complete
    • Concrete
    • Courteous

For many people it will take practice to become an effective communicator. Ask for feedback around the clarity, delivery, and timing of your message. It might feel risky but each small risk will build your confidence and increase trust in those you work with. 

Developing a communication plan with timelines and milestones will help you to see what messages are working and where you need to focus your efforts whether internally or externally. 

Will Volunteer Programs Survive Instability?

By Lori Gotlieb

After reading an article that was published by CBC about the decline of volunteering in Toronto, I decided to write an opinion piece.

Volunteerism is at the core of community engagement  and program delivery for many organizations and has been through the best of times and the worst of times but it is not immune to the social, economic and political factors that we all face. In fact, organizations should be factoring in the landscape of volunteer support in their short term and long term strategic planning. 

Volunteer administrators should have an opportunity to have a voice at the leadership table to inform and discuss with Executive Directors and Boards about how best to build and shift their volunteer programs to respond to the uncertainty.

Volunteer programs are still under staffed and underfunded and the result could be a gap  in leadership steering the volunteer program in many cases. 

I would not make these points without some solutions, so here are some ideas that I hope will help.

  • Organizations need to look at better marketing of their volunteer positions and use social media to tell the stories, show the impact and show the benefits of volunteering for their organization that are tangible and will entice the younger volunteers to get involved. They are constantly on their devices so organizations should be taking advantage of that.
  • Organizations need to look at how best to engage volunteers remotely and be able to pivot as the pandemic continues to shift. There needs to be remote training, remote support and remote recognition to keep them engaged.
  • Organizations should be SELLING their benefits of volunteering because it is a buyer’s market right now.
  • If the economic costs are a burden for volunteers, what ways can organizations provide benefits to entice them to volunteer? Could you provide educational opportunities to help volunteers develop their skills (soft skills are a big thing right now)
  • Organizations need to look at the potential gaps that high skilled volunteers can help in, or even for the younger volunteers to learn from…. we need to be more creative with our volunteer opportunities.
  • Some volunteer positions may need to be broken down to smaller morsels that may be more attractive to volunteers.
  • Organizations need to look at where their gaps are in services that normally would be run by staff but could be shifted to volunteers or even partner up with the profit world.
  • Volunteer programs need to have a voice at the strategic level, there is so much potential out there to get involved but the traditional model of volunteering is still the dominant one and it has to change if nonprofits are going to attract and retain volunteers.

I guess I am calling this a call to action for organizations to lean on the volunteer program and especially on the skilled administrator that they entrusted with their volunteers more.

I know that there is a lot here that I have dumped and I am happy to chat with any leader of an organization and discuss this further.

For more information about our work and workshops, go to

I can also be reached at

The Volunteer Management Lifecycle in the New Normal

By Lori Gotlieb

As we come out of the grips of the closures from the pandemic, many lessons have been learned on how to lead a volunteer program during uncertain times including how to interpret the volunteer management lifecycle to address our new normal.

The volunteer management cycle talks about the journey of running a volunteer program starting from assessment to evaluation and has always been a great check and balance on whether you have the fundamentals of a solid program, but things have changed and we have to look at these components with a new lens.

The biggest changes would be reflected in the following areas:

  • Role design
  • Risk management
  • Recruitment
  • Screening
  • Orientation and training
  • Supervision and support
  • Recognition

The following are some thoughts on these areas:

Role design needs to reflect the changing roles of volunteers whereby we move to a hybrid model and the role design needs to be flexible to allow for shifts from in person to virtual still keeping the integrity of the role. This standard addresses the development of the role, and so it key to receive input from those who will be working directly with this position to ensure the seamless move from in person to virtual could happen if required.

We need to ensure that volunteers feel like they are making an impact and what the benefits are to them.

Risk management needs to include the virtual world of risk whereby you are not able to see what the volunteer is doing, not able to supervise /support onsite and needs to include new policies and procedures that reflect the virtual world of volunteering including code of conduct in a virtual world, conflict, appropriate etiquette on the phone or online and also boundaries and grey zones to name a few.

Recruitment should now be considered marketing and social media. We have gone past the volunteer displays in libraries and community centres. We need to be ever present on social media, reflecting the platforms that our potential volunteers are on…. we are way behind here. We want them to come to us…. from anywhere in the world.

Screening needs to be moved online. We should be using our websites as first point of contact and putting our application forms online, our screening questions online and even our orientation could go online…. we have moved to a ZOOM world and our volunteer programs need to embrace them. 

Orientation and training could and should be moved online for as much as possible. There are so many benefits to moving it online…it allows for repetitive learning and opportunities for testing and ongoing education. If University and Colleges could move completely online so can volunteer programs.

Supervision and support can be moved online and this could provide some great opportunities for collaborative support, peer to peer support and the removal of geographical barriers.

Recognition has an opportunity to be ongoing, educational, celebratory and reach larger audiences more often. The new normal can include badges for accomplishments, micro-education for continuous learning and upgrading to allow more volunteers to get involved more often.

Overall, you need to look at the volunteer management lifecycle as it reflects the “new normal”.

For a volunteer program to thrive it has to adopt technology and use your organizational website as a tool for marketing, management and celebration.

For more information or questions, or to book a  Volunteer Management 101 in the New Normal workshop on this and many other topics feel free to reach out to us at and go to

Hybrid Volunteering: The Future of Volunteerism Webinar

Many organizations are returning to a hybrid working model but how can you implement a hybrid model into your volunteer programs? Learn how your organization can recruit, manage and engage volunteers both on and offline with Driven and Lori Gotlieb.

Find all the links below:

Replay Link:

Audio Podcast:

Video Podcast:

Better Impact Certified Consultant

I am honoured to be part of the first cohort of consultants ever to be trained by Better Impact to understand their Volunteer Impact database and therefore be well informed as to how to assist their clients to manage and grow their volunteer programs. Certified Consultants are a great resource in a variety of scenarios. Perhaps you are so busy currently that it would help to have someone dedicated to take on the full set up of your account. Or perhaps your organization is in a position where it’s time to review your volunteer engagement program, processes and policies, and you want to have that happen side by side with your Volunteer Impact software.
You can think of the Better Impact Certified Consultants as extensions of the Better Impact family working independently but trained by the Better Impact family.