All posts by Lori Gotlieb Consulting

Volunteer Leadership

Here is my latest article published through Canadian Society of Association Executives

Volunteers are the foundation of any association, without them … what gets done? Volunteers are dedicating their time and talents to your association in many ways. In return, show volunteers they have made the right decision by becoming part of your volunteer team.

What are the key components you need to be aware of as you build your volunteer leadership team.

Building Effective Volunteer Leadership

Are you engaged in the following building blocks of volunteer leadership?

  • Clearly defined descriptions for all volunteer roles, with a focus on core competencies.
  • A defined recruitment process reflecting your board’s and committees’ diversity with a goal of filling areas of need with strength.
  • Standardized onboarding and off-boarding processes that reflect both the association’s roles and culture.
  • Up-to-date policies and procedures that are volunteer role-specific beyond what is found in your organization’s terms of references and by-laws.
  • Annual volunteer assessments, evaluations, and feedback mechanisms to ensure retention and succession planning best practices.
  • Recognition plans that include a diverse means of informally and formally acknowledging volunteers and staff in ways that reflect the volunteers’ interests.
  • A plan for developing leaders based on their “soft” skills, with a look towards a mentorship or coaching program that can engage your outgoing leaders and their skills and experiences.

Did you really mean what you said?

Did You Really Mean What You Said?

By Lori Gotlieb

Strong communication skills will make all the difference between a positive relationship with your volunteers and the negativity that can grow like weeds in your garden of volunteers.

Leaders of volunteers, whether paid or not, must carefully consider the kind of culture they want for their organizations and reflect that culture in their interactions with their members and volunteers.

Too often, we talk about wanting to be better communicators but we are not actually being that change we want to see others be.

Communications is an area that is constantly misused and misunderstood. We communicate in so many different ways to so many different audiences.

In the world of technology, communication is so important because our words are translated through the eyes of the receiver.

The ability to understand your communication style and is an important tool to help you to understand and work with others. We all have preferred communication styles, but we need to be able to adapt to our situations and the people that we are working with.

A key element of good communication is active listening and the ability to read the room.

Here are some key areas that you need to focus on.

Listen to your audience and find ways to get feedback. Remember that your messages intent is not always how your audience understands it. It is important to check in and get feedback you’re your volunteers on a regular basis

  • Engage others in your communication strategy and test out the message before you send it out
  • Create timelines throughout the year to solicit opinions, ideas, feedback and evaluation
  • Learn from your history and evaluate the impact of your messages. For example, once a volunteer has finished their assignment or their tenure as a committee member, have a representative reach out for feedback on their experience. This is not only a gesture of recognition but also shows that you are interested in learning from others experiences

Provide opportunities for your volunteers to learn about team building, communicating, conflict resolution and volunteer engagement best practices….this is a team effort and there is no “I” in team


So what happens if you don’t focus on communication in your interactions with volunteers and members?

This is what can happen:

  • Poor performance and poor attendance
  • Misinterpretation of information which leads to gossip
  • Power struggles and cliques start to form
  • Safety at risk both personal, informational and reputational
  • Loss of potentially dynamic volunteers who do not want to get involved
  • Low morale

Need I go on……

There are so many consequences to poor communication.

Take the time to demonstrate commitment to positive communication between your volunteers.

Strategize and build in tools and resources to ensure that all volunteers have the appropriate information. Build in training when you meet as a group on the soft skills best practices.

Understand the uniqueness of each generation and how they interpret information.

Build and share tools to ensure that they feel that your organization is supporting a positive, teamwork environment that respects both individual input and the needs of the whole. This could be performance management system and/or feedback and survey forms.

Empower your volunteers to be the best and show them the way….it starts at the top.

We need to be aware of what works and what does not. We need to motivate others to be their best and we need to ensure that they have the tools to do this.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

George Bernard Shaw

The Wall That Can Separate a Trainer from an Audience

Sometimes when I write articles I can get a bit personal. This is one of those times.

Lately I have noticed some great conferences and training opportunities but when I scroll down to the benefits to the trainers, my heart sinks. The costs are too prohibitive for the trainers to come to these conferences.

Again, I am speaking from my perspective, and as I have been taught I will provide a couple of solutions to the problem that I am addressing.

In my field of volunteer management, there are some amazing, thought provoking, experienced subject matter experts (and I hope that I am one of them) that would love to cross borders, or even stay in the same province/state, who are challenged with the fact that it will cost to train at conferences local events.

I am not talking about training at any charge but I am addressing the issue of having to pay my own expenses and training at no cost.

I will do this as part of my commitment to the field of Volunteer Management training, but I feel that there needs to be some recognition and flexibility in planning that needs to address this gap.

We need to understand that there are costs in building strong, thought provoking presentations and workshops and that the return on investment for the audience is guaranteed.

So enough of the negative, here is the positive.

Here are some ideas that I have proposed in the past.

Building in a master class to a conference that you can charge a bit more for to augment the cost to bring is the expert

Provide webinar trainings with a small fee to provide an honorarium to the speaker

Ask the presenter to do more than one presentation

Offer up a coaching hour for participants that allow for a one to one with the expert they brought in

Finally, when planning for conferences, budget in some funds that would be available for the trainer.

This is a field that is undervalued by the outside world; we should not be undervaluing ourselves as well.

I have always tried to challenge and elevate our profession; this is just me chipping away at it.

For more information about workshops and projects go to





Is your volunteer program sparkling like a precious jewel ?

I am saddened to hear about the closure of Volunteer Hamilton, which has been a staple in that community for many year, this did not sit well with me, hence this article on what I believe volunteer programs need to focus on to successfully recruit, engage and support the more than 12 million volunteers in Canada.


As an educator, consultant and workshop facilitator in the field of volunteer leadership, I see that there are still gaps in the spectrum of volunteer engagement and many of those gaps can be removed through educating and supporting volunteer programs in a strategic manner.


Here are some of my personal thoughts on what success looks like and some foundational steps that need to be addressed by non-profit organizations.


Look at the trends in volunteerism: What is not what is…. the world is changing rapidly and the expectations of volunteers are changing too. Volunteers what flexibility, mobility, technological support, and opportunities to be engaged but to learn as well.


  • Volunteers want to see the impact: Volunteer programs need to understand and be able to translate into quantitative and qualitative content and share that content with the volunteers so that they truly understand how they make a difference


  • Volunteer programs need to be more flexible: Staff needs to develop volunteer assignments that are reflective of the community needs now and consider the skills needed to fulfill the roles.


  • Invest time and money into your volunteer strategy: If you don’t have one…create one, Senior leadership needs to ensure that their staff and leadership volunteers are educated on the best practices and principles of volunteer engagement and understand where they fit into the cycle.


  • Board and committee members need to embrace not only the value of volunteerism brings to the organization but the costs as well: Volunteer administrators need to be educated and provided with tools and resources to build “creative and cutting edge” volunteer programs.


  • Technology is key to recruitment and volunteer onboarding: Look to your website to ensure that you are communicated the right messages about volunteerism. Provide tools and resources on your website pages about recruitment, onboarding and benefits of volunteer involvement. Ensure that you are focusing on target recruitment and potential partnerships, focussing on a recruitment strategy that will reach the right audience.


  • Engage volunteer management experts to fill in the gaps: There is a lot of value in engaging an outside expert to assess and help mobilize your resources to ensure that you are getting the “best bang for the buck”.
  • Follow the Canadian Code of Volunteer Involvement that is available at Volunteer Canada: Ensure that you have created a volunteer engagement strategy that embraces diversity, creativity and best practices including due diligence to both strengthen the existing program and reach for the stars and be an organization that volunteers want to be involved in.


Finally, at the minimum, ensure that volunteer engagement and best practices are ongoing discussions at all levels of the organization and not just an annual presentation to the Board. Volunteer programs can be a precious jewel in your organization, but you need to treasure and protect it so that it can sparkle the way it was meant to.


If you have any questions, or interested in consulting, advice or a workshops contact me at and see what workshops we offer at


Make this a priority for the New Year!!!!!

Are you supporting your Association Volunteers the right way

Let me pose three questions to you:


  1. Do you have issues getting your members to engage in volunteering with your association?
  2. Do you have a succession plan that looks at who your members are and what motivates them to volunteer for your association?
  3. Have you provided education and training, tools and resources on best practices in volunteer engagement in your association?
  4. Does your website reflect the opportunities and benefits of volunteering in your association?


Okay, that was four questions. If you answer no to any of these, then you need to ask yourself what can you do to make volunteerism attractive to your members and once you have them engaged, how do you support them through their tenure as a volunteer?


Supporting Your Volunteers

An association’s volunteer engagement strategies are key to ensuring that there is a solid foundation to support their volunteer efforts.

This solid foundation needs to include the following steps:


  • Clear role descriptions and committee terms of references that all volunteers receive when they begin their term
  • Specific policies and procedures related to volunteer engagement (beyond Association Charters)
  • Adopting the Canadian Code of Volunteer Involvement, which is a best practice model of the standards of volunteer engagement
  • Screening and onboarding processes that are transparent including forms such as Code of Conduct, Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality
  • Volunteer Engagement data management tool
  • Training and education for volunteer engagement (communication skills, volunteer leadership skills, best practices for committees and boards to name a few)
  • Retention and succession planning on an annual basis
  • Volunteer feedback and evaluation protocol
  • Volunteer off boarding process and recognition that reflects their experiences and encourages the volunteer to continue to be an ambassador of the association


So, if you are not already stressed that you don’t have these in place, now you have to consider the diversity of your volunteer base.

Are you looking at diversifying your volunteer committees and roles and do they reflect the changing demographics?

Do you understand the differences between the generations and how they interact with each other?

The first step to bridging the intergenerational gaps is to understand each other and the different ways that they communicate and learn to blend the differences to ensure that you are responding to their needs.

For example, baby boomers are used to in person contact and yet the Generation X is highly tech savvy and prefers to multi-task. So, picture sitting in a committee meeting and your volunteers are looking at their phones all the time….is this going to sit well with everyone or is this becoming the norm? Are they using their phones to take notes? Is this OK or is this the just becoming the norm?

This is just an example of what the future will hold as the generations continue to blend.

Consider what your priorities are in the next 10 years, can your Association continue to engage volunteers is the same way that they had 10 years ago? If not, it is time to create a strategic plan that focuses on volunteer engagement.

Lori will be attending and presenting at National Conference in Newfoundland, so please join her session or reach out at anytime.



For more information or articles of volunteer engagement, go to Feel free to reach out if you have any questions to

The Hidden Value of a Volunteer Management Leader Driving the Volunteer Program

I have been working in the field of volunteer management long enough to see the continuous cycle of the lack of understanding of the value of a professional volunteer program being lead by someone who can focus on best practices in volunteer management that ensures a strong foundation of a successful volunteer engagement strategy.

Many organizations do not seem to realize the value of someone who understands the multi-faceted approaches to volunteer engagement.

Firstly, the role of a leader of volunteers is to understand the needs of the organization both from a strategic and tactical position. Most non-profits and associations are dependant on volunteers to fulfill their mandates and goals and yet, they may not even understand how volunteers can add value to the organization in many ways.

Secondly, the role of the leader of volunteers is to understand who the volunteers of today are, and even who the volunteers of tomorrow will be and bridge the gaps between the needs of the volunteers and the needs of the organizations. This is not an easy task to do, the landscape is changing rapidly and technology alone is forcing organizations and associations to think differently and act responsibly. The blend of generations alone is enough to keep a volunteer program busy.

Next, there is a clear set of best practices that help to build a strong foundation of volunteer management. These best practices are necessary to ensure that organizations are practicing due diligence and mitigating risks that can escalate and into larger problems.

Best practices in volunteer management include the following:

  • Clearly defined role descriptions
  • Defined recruitment process that reflects the diversity of the community it serves
  • Standardized on-boarding and off-boarding processes
  • Up to date policies and procedures that are volunteer specific
  • Annual volunteer assessments, evaluations and performance discussions to ensure best practices in retention and succession planning
  • Recognition plans that include a diverse means of acknowledging volunteers and staff in both informal and formal ways and reflects the interests of the volunteer
  • These are just a few areas that a professional volunteer leader would be focussed on.

It is imperative that organizations understand who their volunteers are, where to reach out to them in a targeted way, how to screen appropriately and how to retain and support the volunteers that you have invested time into.

The importance of a professional paid administrator of volunteer is imperative to the success of the volunteer program. They are the bridge between the community and the organization, with one focus…. the success of volunteerism in the organization and the growth of the volunteer engagement strategy.

Though there are costs involved in this strategy the cost to not having a strong, structured volunteer program could out weight the cost of having someone in the drivers seat focused on driving the program towards success.

For more information or to book a workshop on volunteer engagement and various other topics related to best practices in volunteerism go to

Or if you just want to ask questions, feel free to reach out.



Reduce Risk to Your Association with the 10 Steps of Volunteer Screening

Is a volunteer screening process necessary for everyone?

Are all volunteer roles considered equal?

How do you ask volunteers to go through a screening process if they are volunteering their time?

How do we say no?

How much time do you spend dealing with the interpersonal issues amongst volunteers?

Do any of these questions keep you up at night?

Screening volunteers is a key step all associations should consider implementing for their members. Doing so can ensure your organization has the right people in the right role. Volunteer screening also means you have done your due diligence in protecting your association’s reputation and assets, minimizing liability.

10 Steps to Volunteer Screening

The following reviews the 10 Steps of Volunteer Screening. The steps help provide clear guidelines for developing volunteer screening polices and best practices to ensure the commitment and safety of all volunteers matches your organization’s needs and values.

  1. Assessment: Identify and assess the risks presented by each volunteer position by rating the risk as high, medium or low.
  2. Position Descriptions: Ensure all volunteer positions have clear descriptions of responsibility, scope and accountability, and that volunteers review and agree to the role.
  3. Recruitment: Use a consistent and transparent means of recruiting volunteers, including key information to make informed decisions.
  4. Application Forms: All volunteers are required to complete application forms with standardized information to ensure you have the required content to support the volunteer and protect the association / organization.
  5. Interview: All volunteers should go through a transparent and consistent interview process, asking the appropriate questions to ascertain the volunteer’s abilities to fulfil the role.
  6. Reference Checks: Check references in accordance to the pre-determined skills required for the role.
  7. Criminal Reference Checks: Based on the risks of the role, a criminal reference check may be required.
  8. Orientation and Training: It is important that all volunteers receive clear information on the mission, vision, policies and procedures related to their tasks and the position’s scope.
  9. Support: Ensure there is a support mechanism in place so the volunteer knows who they need to reach out to. There must also be an ongoing process for performance feedback so volunteers have an opportunity to regularly provide feedback on their role.
  10. Evaluation: Ongoing review of the volunteer role, expectations and outcomes are key to understanding what is working and what requires further review to minimize risks. Ensure that all stakeholders have an opportunity to provide feedback.


These 10 steps of volunteer screening are a starting point for ensuring you have a solid risk management process in place. The steps also ensure you have the right people in place to regularly monitor volunteer activities, building support tools and resources, and providing education and support to all the stakeholders.

You will no longer be kept up at night, fingers crossed, if you follow these 10 steps and undertake a proper volunteer screening process.


Is your volunteer program becoming an antique?

The following article, published in Charityvillage  January 2017,gives some insight into how to bring your volunteer program to the forefront and focuses on tips to advocate for yourself, make your program current and be creative:

Volunteer programs need to adapt to changing trends and environments – or else be prepared to struggle with the recruitment and retention of volunteers. Volunteer programs should be dynamic and not static; they should focus on both the needs of the organization and the community at large.


As a leader of a volunteer program, it is your role to develop strategies for your volunteer program to address current trends and not be an aging antique in the new digital world.

These strategies should embrace:

  • Better access to resources through technology
  • A committed and highly skilled volunteer force that want some control of their experiences
  • Diversity of skills and knowledge through the many different generations of volunteers
  • Social awareness of the value of volunteerism and engaging in your community

Approach your work with creativity

Ask yourself the following:

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Where are your opportunities and threats?

Creativity is key to answering these questions, which, in turn, will help you to develop volunteer engagement strategies that are exciting to your existing and potential volunteers.

Volunteer programs need to stretch the imagination in order to engage with their:

  • Staff, including senior leadership
  • Board and committee members
  • Leadership volunteers
  • Influencers in your organization and community

Creativity is also vital in sharing your stories about volunteer engagement with these important decision makers, and only by getting the word out about your program’s impact and return on investment will you be able to impress upon them the value that your program brings.

Become your own advocate

Do you have an elevator speech to start that conversation with those stakeholders listed above? If you had 60 seconds in the elevator or lunchroom with your CEO or ED, what would you talk about?

Consider the following as you create your speech:

  • What highlights are you most proud of for your volunteer program in the past 6 months?
  • What stories have you heard from your volunteers, clients and staff?
  • What numbers have you increased over the year?
  • What “new” kinds of volunteers have joined the organization that are different from the year before?
  • Have you created any volunteer partnerships that your leadership may not be aware of?
  • Did you implement a new process or activity that your CEO may not be aware of (e.g. new recognition activity)?

Also, think about what accomplishments you would like your leadership to know about. You could also consider something you’ve been dreaming of implementing.

For example, your elevator speech might discuss how your numbers of youth volunteers have grown in the past year and that you are thinking of developing a youth-centred recognition program where they hear from the leaders in your organization with advice about their career path.

If you don’t know have a plan, now is time to create one. This is a key door opener to larger conversations.

Keep your program current

So, how do you prevent becoming an antique in your own organizations? Here are some quick tips:

  • Develop that elevator speech with highlights.
  • Start to evaluate your volunteer program for both quantitative and qualitative stories.
  • Conduct a SWOT and PEST analysis of your program.
  • Create an annual work plan that focuses on one area of the volunteer management cycle that you have put on the back burner.
  • Go to workshops and take some courses to re-energize yourself and learn new skills.
  • Take the time to read the newspaper and stay up on current affairs because you never know where you’ll find that next great idea or inspiration.

Finally, ensure that you are building a volunteer program that is interesting to your volunteers and that provides opportunities for volunteer growth and succession planning.

Volunteer Programs Need On-Going Engagement to Thrive

When examining your volunteer programs, what does your best practice model of volunteer engagement look like? Do you think your program is reflecting the best practice standards in Canada?

Volunteer engagement is a cyclical relationship that starts with your members’ interest in further engagement and never really ends. Thriving volunteer engagement programs within associations are built on solid foundations and guiding principles and standards of practices. Some of these standards for volunteer programs are outlined in The Canadian Code of Volunteer Involvement.


Engagement Standards for Engagement in Volunteer Programs

The following 14 standards are related to best practices in volunteer engagement through:

  1. Mission-Based Approach: Board of Directors and senior staff support the roles of volunteers in achieving the mission and that volunteer roles are linked to the mission.
  2. Human Resources: Volunteers are valued and appropriate resources are in place to support their involvement.
  3. Policies and Procedures: A policy framework clearly supports volunteer involvement and defines expectations and boundaries of all parties.
  4. Volunteer Administration: That there is a key person designated to support volunteer involvement.
  5. Risk Management and Quality Assurance: Risk processes are in place to assess, manage and mitigate potential risks to volunteers and members.
  6. Volunteer Roles: Clear and concise role descriptions are developed and communicated to all participants in volunteer programs.
  7. Recruitment: Strategies are built to attract a diverse audience to your volunteer programs from your membership and abroad.
  8. Screening: A transparent and clearly communicated screening process is in place that is aligned with your risk management approach.
  9. Orientation and Training: Comprehensive orientation and training is provided to minimize risks within your volunteer programs.
  10. Support and Supervision: Levels of support reflect the roles and a performance feedback mechanism is in place to give and receive feedback regularly.
  11. Records Management: Current legislative requirements and forms are documented and stored in a confidential way.
  12. Technology: Using technology to support and engage volunteers in meaningful ways.
  13. Recognition: Volunteer contributions are acknowledged through formal and informal methods.
  14. Evaluation: An evaluation framework is in place to assess both the volunteers’ activities, as well as the effectiveness of the volunteer engagement strategy


The Risks of Volunteer Engagement

What can be at risk here, and where are your red flags? Here are a few to think about:

  • Risk to reputation
  • Ethical and moral risks
  • Inappropriate screening methods or inconsistent screening
  • Improper use of equipment and branding material
  • Unclear policies and procedures that are not clearly communicated
  • Incomplete application process and forms not complete
  • Risk analysis of roles not reviewed
  • Poor succession planning
  • Insufficient role descriptions and/or terms of reference
  • No mechanism for feedback

Is this overwhelming or are you confident that you have it all in place?

I get asked all the time, what makes a strong volunteer program and my response is always the same. Ensure that you have a strong foundation and process in place to minimize risk. Find the right person for the right role. Support your volunteers in a meaningful way and evaluate annually where your strengths and weaknesses are.

And keep moving the ship forward inch by inch.