Volunteering and working with Boards

(re-post from October 5, 2012) – interesting thinking of this same time a year 6-years later…

 

For over a decade I have volunteered with associations and have gone as far as Chairing several boards.  With several of these associations there was no guidelines in managing tasks and tools to encourage volunteers often a routine of passing the torch to anyone who volunteered to take it over with little cohesive long term planning.

There are a lot of great tools and information available online that make great framework to utilize if entering such a role that does not have an existing guideline.  I have gathered some and have embellished with my first-hand experience:

  • “Volunteering is an important and essential contribution from all members of society to help others, ourselves and to keep life running smoothly.”
  • Guide to Volunteer Recognition:
    • Volunteer recognition is one of the essential components to the volunteer program.  When volunteers feel recognized and appreciated, they are more likely to continue volunteering with the organization and represent the organization well in their communities.
    • The most important piece of recognition is maintaining a culture of thanks – saying thank you on a regular basis.
    • Recognition is everybody’s responsibility, not just the volunteer’s manager.
    • It does not have to be a grand gesture of thanks, nor does it need to be incredibly time consuming.  Recognizing a volunteer can be as simple as sending a thank you email or card.  It should be done separate from any other communication however, so as not to dilute the message of thanks.
    • It is also important to remember that everyone likes to be recognized in different ways.  When thinking about how to thank volunteers, keep the Platinum Rule in mind: Do unto others as they want done unto them.  In other words, try to thank them the way they want to be thanked, not necessarily the way you might want to be thanked.  A simple way to determine the type of recognition volunteers are looking for is to ask them why they are volunteering (building their resume, sharpening their skills, meeting new people, etc.).  The type of recognition they are looking for is usually tied to the motivation behind their volunteerism.”
  • “Express appreciation when appropriate: Be sincere. Nothing turns people off more than someone who is trying to curry favor. “
  • “When volunteering, all personality types come together. This is perhaps more so than in a workplace, where certain personality types will tend to come together through recruitment selection seeking specific skill sets and personality traits. As such, you’ll meet people from all walks of life, with different approaches to doing things. To deal with this, sometimes you’ll need great patience and a closed mouth. If things get heated, let people have their say and then quietly summarize their position but then go on to suggest the compromising path. You don’t want to lose volunteers because of personality clashes, or those that know it all. Often these people will fly in, tell everyone else how to do it and then drop out just as quickly as they arrived. Volunteers that succeed the most are those who stick around for the long haul, who know the background and who treat each other with respect.”
  • “Question authorities who seek to over-rely on volunteers. If you feel that an organization is asking too much of volunteers, speak up and say that this work ought to be performed by paid persons. There can be a tendency to rely too much on the goodwill of people. “
  • “Lead by example: …most importantly, lead your volunteers by example. Don’t demand anything from your volunteers that you yourself wouldn’t be willing to do. Additionally, don’t merely sit around barking out orders and then park yourself in a chair while they work hard. By all means, feel free to be directive, but it is imperative to jump in and get your hands dirty with your volunteers to show them you are willing to work hard, too.”
  • “Be flexible…Remember to offer flexibility to your volunteers as well. Your personal and private life is a roller coaster, and so is that of each of your volunteers. These people are offering up their free time to assist in your project, so understand when they need to be away for a week or two or weekends here and there.”
  • “Be accurate and detailed…Unlike regular employees, volunteers should not be saddled with too great a burden. This is not meant to belittle the volunteers, but rather to present them with realistic goals. Provide volunteers with clear, accurate, and concise goals from the beginning so they have direction and can produce quality results from the start.”
  • “Volunteers will do whatever it takes to get the job done when there is flexibility… When we work to accommodate them at the level of their availability, they are more willing to accommodate us.”
  • “Volunteers tend to renew their commitments when they are given the authority to do their job: Contented workers are those who know you will not step in and take control once the assignment has been given. It doesn’t matter if you can do a better job. That is not the issue. Letting someone else do “his or her best” so you can find needed rest definitely is.”
  • “Turn the tables: If someone says, “We can’t do that,” ask, “What CAN you do?” If that person says, “We can’t be ready by that date,” ask “When CAN you be ready?” or “What factors are keeping you from being ready on that date?”

The Most Important Part of Working on a Board or Committee is Communication:

  • Don’t drown volunteers in e-mail: Rather than sending messages as soon as you think of something you want to say, take the time to choose the appropriate recipients and type of communiqué. There are at least three categories of e-mails to consider: individual exchanges with one volunteer at a time; blast e-mails that go to every volunteer; and e-mails sent collectively to selected volunteers working together on a committee or project. Note that many volunteers will be on all three of these lists, so it’s easy to overwhelm them. That’s why subject bars are so critical.
  • For individual and small group communication, it’s much better to send several shorter e-mails – each on a specific subject – than to combine lots of points into one long message. Your goal is to allow recipients to deal with the content of each e-mail and file it away. Not to mention how much easier it will make your life if return messages are clearly about a specific topic.
  • As a substitute for working via e-mail, consider organizing  an online discussion group, such as Google Groups (http://groups.google.com/), for specific initiatives or committees. While there may be many posts to get work done, setting the “digest” option consolidates the exchanges each day and may alleviate the feeling of an inundated email box. MY NOTE: I have set this up for several boards and it has been a life saver for all plus, it leaves historical documents for future board members.
  • Train everyone to pay attention to the subject bar (both in receiving and sending messages) and make sure it communicates what each e-mail contains. This is your most important tool to ensure successful e-mail control.
  • If there is something critical in the message, include the word “important” or “urgent” in the subject line, but do so sparingly. If every e-mail message from you says urgent, recipients will not take your messages seriously. Don’t cry wolf!
  • First, decide on an acronym for your organization and use it consistently as the first item in every subject bar. Then, follow the acronym with something that alerts volunteers about the contents of the e-mail. Agree together to use certain terms consistently in subject bars. In other words, decide that you will always say “Treasurer’s Report” and not later use “Financials” or “Cash Flow” to refer to the same document you send every month. This helps everyone to recognize and save e-mails in similarly-named folders.
  • Use “Reply All” wisely and sparingly. Give careful thought to what you say to the larger audience and avoid overloading the inbox.
  • Change the subject bar when the contents of the e-mail no longer refers to what was in the heading 3 weeks ago! It’s common for people in an ongoing cyber conversation to just keep hitting “reply” without noticing that the subject bar of the message still says “Christmas party planning” even though it is now April.
  • Conversely, teach people when NOT to use “Reply All.” There are no hard and fast rules on this, but sometimes it’s helpful to say something in your message such as, “I am sending this to the whole team as a heads up, but after this Alicia and Michael can exchange e-mails without copying the rest of us.”
  • If an e-mail includes a deadline or a request for something specific, put this information at the beginning of the message to be sure it is seen. Then go on to explain it. If you bury deadlines at the end of your messages, don’t be surprised if they get missed.
  • Of, course, the issue of not getting fast answers back from volunteers is another story! Do not get angry at silence. Train everyone how to work with you via e-mail. Many of the tips here will help. Recognize that most people are overwhelmed by the amount of electronic messages they receive and make your communications ones they will want to open. Make sure they know exactly how to respond.

Sources:
http://www.wikihow.com/Know-when-Not-to-Volunteer
http://blogs.volunteermatch.org/engagingvolunteers/2012/07/09/10-tips-for-keeping-your-volunteers-motivated-and-happy/
http://www.justbetweenus.org/pages/page.asp?page_id=87965
http://www.energizeinc.com/promo/E-mail_with_Volunteers.pdf

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