Getting the best from your volunteers through the SAVE approach
Managing a volunteer program can be a very rewarding and exciting role. We are matchmakers, facilitators, social workers, marketers, sales people and sometimes disciplinarians. This last role is usually the least comfortable for us – and the one that many of us try to avoid. But the fact remains, it is also part of the job.
The ‘new’ volunteer is looking for ways to engage your organization that fit into their own busy schedules and they are looking for guidance and support more than supervision and recognition.
Creating a solid volunteer management system that is well communicated and reinforced will go a long way towards minimizing the need for disciplinary actions – including the need to fire a volunteer. However, should you find yourself in this position, having a structured volunteer management system will ensure that you will have put the appropriate measures in place.
How the SAVE Approach can help
By using the SAVE Approach, you can proactively ensure that best practices are in place for onboarding new volunteers, providing guidance to existing volunteers and, when necessary, end the volunteer relationship.
The SAVE Approach is:
S (Screening, Structure, Support and Supervision)
A (Attainable, Attention)
V (Validate, Value)
E (Evaluate, Encourage, End)
Screening volunteers by collecting and evaluating information about potential volunteers will help you to determine the right fit for each volunteer and will identify any red flags that might prevent the volunteer from being the best choice for the role. By not screening volunteers, you are immediately putting your volunteer program at risk of having to remove a volunteer. The purpose of screening is to protect both the volunteer and the organization (and the organization’s clients) and prevent inappropriate placements. Remember that screening begins at your first encounter with the potential volunteer.
Structure helps you to set goals for the volunteer that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound (SMART). By building the infrastructure of the volunteer program to include performance management, proper documentation, training of both staff and volunteers, and linking the performance to recognition, leadership roles and evaluation, you will minimize risks.
Supporting volunteers requires flexibility. Also, it is not just your role to support the volunteer but also the staff and senior leadership of the organization. They too will need to learn to provide support and encouragement to volunteers. Some strategies for support could include shadowing and mentorship, training and de-briefing sessions. Developing a system to support your volunteers will allow you to guide your volunteer’s relationship in a positive and meaningful way.
Supervision requires open communication between all parties. It is key that there is an ongoing feedback and evaluation process that includes all supervising staff as well as input from clients.
Attention and Attainable requires you to get to know your volunteers and revise roles to ensure that they are SMART. Providing new opportunities for keeping volunteers involved and motivated ensures that volunteers are getting the ongoing support and education that they require.
Value refers to the way that we can connect the volunteer’s role to the organization’s mission and vision by setting clear expectations through policies, procedures and best practices and communicating this to the volunteers. All volunteers need to be treated with respect and should know how they fit into the big picture.
Validating the volunteer experience occurs through feedback, 360-degree performance management systems, and open dialogue. It is also important to provide motivation to stretch beyond their comfort zone and be a positive role model for other volunteers.
Encouragement focuses on the ability to keep volunteers motivated and engaged in their work. By matching volunteers with their interests and skills you can encourage high-level performance outcomes.
Ensuring that the volunteers are regularly supported, educated and thanked is going to build on their comfort level and keep the lines of communication open. It is also important to identify training needs, celebrate successes and publicise the contributions of the volunteers to your stakeholders as well as creating a volunteer-friendly atmosphere within your organization.
Evaluation is a necessary component of the volunteer management cycle that will reinforce the structure that you have built.
The key components include knowing the benefits of effective performance management and ensuring that a process exists. It is important to set goals with the volunteer and follow through on them so that you can move volunteers towards success.
Ending a volunteer relationship
Finally, if you do need to END a volunteer relationship, it is important to do so in a respectful and structured way.
Dealing with a difficult volunteer requires an objective and timely process that relies on the volunteer position description for framing the conversation and identifying the expected behaviour of the volunteer. Indicating a shared commitment to finding a solution will help to create the parameters to address and ultimately solve the issues that are concerning.
If you must remove the volunteer from their position, the first step is to ensure that you document everything. Keeping thorough records is a best practice that should be adopted for all of your volunteer transactions, not just when disciplinary action is being considered.
You should create a progressive dismissal process that is well documented in your volunteer manual and communicated to your volunteers and staff.
It is very hard to predict how the volunteer will respond to the end of their relationship with the organization. Where possible, we want to encourage volunteers to continue to be philanthropic and engaged in community support.
Volunteering is a very personal choice and we are an important conductor on the volunteer’s journey. Taking the time to develop screening and support tools and communicating these both internally and externally, with volunteers and staff, we can feel confident that we can SAVE the difficult conversation for another time.
Volunteer programs are as unique as the organizations that they support, not to mention the people who manage these programs! Administrators of volunteers come from many different backgrounds and with many different experiences, but what they have in common is that they are charged with providing expertise in a wide variety of areas.
The foundation for success as a manager of volunteers comes from both a passion to work with people, as well as the ability to manage a variety of projects and activities that focus on the ever-changing landscape of an organization’s strategic direction and program goals.
So how do we take this passion and turn it into a top-rated volunteer program? Being an administrator of volunteers requires a very diverse skill set, which I’ve outlined in more detail below, and it is important to be self-reflective about where you naturally excel and where you might need to spend a bit of time improving your skills. Though each sector has their own focus and priorities, these areas of expertise are present in the role description for all managers of volunteers. If they aren’t at your organization, they should be!
Matchmaker and forecaster:
- Understanding and being able to build on the diverse and always changing needs of volunteers.
- Reading between the lines of the role descriptions to understand the how the skills of the volunteer can compliment the needs of the organization. Providing the appropriate screening, training and support to ensure a successful match.
- Staying up-to-date on economic, social, technological and environmental trends to keep your volunteer program current and relevant.
- Keeping up with pertinent legislative changes and connecting with Human Resources to ensure consistency of policies and procedures for both staff and volunteers.
- Providing appropriate and timely training and evaluation of volunteers on an ongoing basis.
- Ensuring that a performance management system is in place so that best practices and risk management practices are re-enforced and followed up on.
- Working with and educating all staff on best practices on how to work with volunteers, whether they are supervising volunteers or just engaged in a a more superficial way.
- Developing and reviewing the goals and objectives of the volunteer program to ensure that they are in line with the goals and objectives of the organization.
- Understanding and developing target marketing strategies annually to connect with the appropriate volunteers.
- Annually ceveloping both a marketing and a communications plan based on your organizational activities and evaluating these plans on a regular basis to track success.
- Ensuring that current marketing trends and technology are used to reach diverse audiences.
- Gathering both stories and hard data to ensure that you are appropriately marketing your volunteer program and impact stories both internally and externally.
- Planning interesting and relevant special events including recognition and educational opportunities for staff and volunteers.
- Learning about how to best plan special events, including the use of project management tools to keep on budget and on track.
- Developing a model of volunteer leadership and succession planning for committees and events volunteers.
- Researching and learning about coaching, mentorship and relationship management so that you can bridge the gaps that sometimes occur when working with all the diverse groups of volunteers and staff.
- Building relationship support resources such as evaluations, exit interviews and focus groups to ensure that you are current on the issues that both volunteers and staff are dealing with.
Supervisor and catch all:
- Understanding best practices in supervision, including 360 degree evaluations.
- Spending the appropriate time in the lifecycle of the volunteers to ensure that they are provided with the appropriate support for their role.
- Developing tools and resources, including data management tools, to track the volunteers’ experiences and capture all necessary information. Using both qualitative and quantitative data to both support the volunteer but also to tell the story of their impact.
As you can see, we are charged with wearing a variety of hats in our role of leaders of volunteers and we must approach all of these roles with equal seriousness to ensure a seamless volunteer experience.
Vital to the success of a volunteer program is ensuring that you as the leader of the program understand the different roles that you provide and ensure that you have the appropriate support, training and education to perform your role at an optimum level.
The next steps
I have included some takeaway ideas for you to consider, which will be key to your understanding of the diversity of your role and, ultimately, to the success of your volunteer program:
- Consider recruiting a Human Resource volunteer who can help with developing resources and training for both volunteers and staff.
- Develop a performance management system for volunteers including a 360-degree feedback mechanism. Remember to carefully consider role descriptions.
- Consider adding key competencies to volunteer leadership and high skilled roles so that volunteers understand the soft skills that are expected in the delivery of their role.
- Take the time to read and stay current on sector trends so that you can adjust your program to reflect the community in which you work.
- Look to project management tools to keep you focused and meeting timelines.
- Sign up for current information on marketing and social media, human resources best practices and communication techniques from national or reputable companies and media outlets. There is great information available in blog posts and monthly newsletters.
- Find a colleague that you admire and consider asking them to coach you. Everyone can benefit from someone to bounce ideas off of, work out some problems and be a cheerleader for your program and your work.
Finally, write down some of the best practices that are mentioned in this article and fit them into your annual work plan. There is always room for growth and learning new ways to manage your volunteer program.