5 Ways To Mismanage Volunteers

I’m a bit of a volunteer junkie. Since high school – which was a long time ago – I have been the first one to raise my hand or sign my name when someone asks for volunteers. When I was a police officer, I moved to the other side and managed a large contingent of volunteers while running the Neighborhood Watch program. In the past several years, my volunteer efforts have been concentrated on HR related groups and animal rescue/shelters.

Through all of these years of interacting with organizations that rely on volunteers, I have seen the same mismanagement and mistakes made again and again. Just like mismanagement of a paid workforce, these errors cost the organization their most precious resource: people.

1. Micromanagement by boards of non-profits. The main function of a board of directors is to set goals and policy.  The details of carrying out those decisions should be left to the staff or volunteers of the organization, whichever is appropriate. When boards debate every little detail about running the organization, causing eager volunteers to wait around for their decisions before they can accomplish any goals, those volunteers are going to walk.

2. Making it unreasonably hard to join your organization. Some organizations, such as the HR groups that I belong to, require membership in the group, and it is from that membership group that volunteers are solicited. Homeowners associations rightly require you to actually live in the subdivision or community. But if the organization takes too long or has you jump through too many hoops to get in, potential volunteers may just decide that your organization isn’t worth their efforts.

One HR group I joined took two months to approve my membership – because their board had to decide on every potential member. (They obviously were violating #1.)  One humane society made everyone attend an orientation scheduled sporadically in the middle of the business day after filling out all kinds of forms online. When I attended my meeting there were 3 volunteers. By contrast, another humane society has an orientation once per month on a Saturday morning, and no forms required before orientation (that is done at the meeting in an ultra-organized way). There were about 75 people at the meeting I attended. In response to my question, I was told they sometimes get 125 people.

3. Failure to follow through.  When I worked at a law firm (before the proliferation of email) I was required to respond to every phone call within 24 hours. When email first came on the scene, it was considered polite to do the same. So if your organization depends on volunteers, then you must respond to their emails and phone calls and offers to help with the same type of urgency. I could give you several examples of organizations that have literally begged people to volunteer, but then failed to followup for weeks or even months with the people who responded. How much work can you expect from a volunteer after that kind of treatment?

4. Accepting animosity between volunteers and paid staff. If an organization depends on volunteers to function, then those volunteers are just as important as the paid staff, and both groups need to be able to work together harmoniously. If the paid staff is disconnected from the volunteers or fails to embrace them – your organization has a big problem managing both groups.

In my experience, this is often created by poor management communication with either group, as well as failure to properly train either. No matter what the reason for the problem, needed volunteers are not going to tolerate the issue the same way paid staff will, because nothing is as valuable as their time.

5. Failure to include. A lot of volunteer organizations have some kind of yearly recognition lunch or dinner, for their volunteers. That’s all well and good, but if you have spent the remainder of the year shutting them out of other functions, or ignoring them when you are planning an event, or never asking their opinion about areas where they have valuable knowledge, then that yearly function isn’t going to keep your volunteers from an early exit.

One organization I am a part of goes so far as to have a board position that is filled by a volunteer, and acts as a liaison between the volunteers and the board. They learned very early that volunteers need to be included to keep them interested and engaged.

Do you have volunteer experience? Was/is it good or bad? Let me know in the comments!



CARNIVAL OF HR – Time Of the Season

Yesterday was the first day of summer, and what better way to start the season than with a carnival? So apply some bug spray, grab some cotton candy, and ENJOY!


“Strange voices are saying things I can’t understand” – from Cruel Summer, Bananarama

Summer does not mean an escape from employment and compliance for the HR pro. Eric Meyer  tells us what to know about providing employees with time off at The Employer Handbook and Jessica Miller Merrill cautions about Twitter related terminations at Blogging 4 Jobs.

Finally, in a post I wasn’t given permission to insert but am doing so anyway because I loved the title, we have the folks at I9/E-Verify discussing how the ICE has put a chill into summer.


“Seasons change and so did I, you need not wonder why” – from No Time, The Guess Who

Seasons are always about change of some kind: change of clothes, change of weather, change of attitude. Our bloggers that recognized and wrote about this include Robin Schooling of HR Schoolhouse, who discusses her worst HR job and the changes it brought.

Also discussing change are Laura Schroeder of Working Girl asking what attrition is good for, and Steve Roesler at All Things Workplace discussing the changes that come with a new boss.

Rounding out the change theme was Erik Samdahl at i4cp, who tells us about agility and the willingness to change as a best practice among best companies.


“In the summertime when the weather is hot, you can stretch right up and touch the sky”

from In The Summertime, Mungo Jerry

Many of our carnival writers recognize that summertime is a good time for personal reflection and growth, like Sri Subramanian of the Talented Apps team, who tells us that performance reviews come around like the seasons, and to use that self-evaluation wisely.

Jennifer V. Miller at The People Equation suggests using the summer to create a “career bucket list.” Lyn Hoyt, guest blogging at Working Girl, discusses work-life balance and making time for everything.

Rob Lockard discusses a related, but slightly different season – graduation season. A commencement address became the inspiration for his post about The Lovejoy of the Season.

Finally, we have Naomi Bloom writing Harry’s and Naomi’s Rules To Live By. Hoe many of these rules do YOU live by – and how many will you embrace this summer?


That Championship SeasonPulitzer Prize-winning play by Jason Miller

Lois Melbourne loves the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, and she uses her blog at Aquire, Inc. to analyze how their organizational talent management created their championship team. Also discussing talent mangement is Jay Kuhns of NoExcusesHR, who wants you to determine what that phrase means within the four walls of your own organization.


“Sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom” – from Summer Breeze, Seals and Crofts

Some contributors took the theme quite literally, and contributed posts specifically about the summer season or issues that are specific to the summer, like Evil Skippy, who hilariously discusses the summer vacation request, and what to do about employees who try to beat the system. Another humorous look at summer HR issues is Stan the HR Stand-up Man (Ian Welsh), who discusses all kinds of summer issues, like dress codes.

Interns are usually a specific-to-summer HR issue, and Susan Heathfield at About.com gives you pointers on how to make your summer intern program sing.

In her aptly named post, “Summertime”, Alive HR author Krista Francis compares the organizational lifestyle to the changing seasons, and Kevin Eikenberry wants you to learn six ways to work and lead differently this summer.

Camping is a huge summertime activity in my home state of Michigan, so I was pleased to read that the Brits enjoy this summer ritual, too, according to Doug Shaw at What Goes Around Limited in his post Windy, Wet and Wonderful.

To wrap everything up, why not watch and listen to Dwayne Lay of LeanHR give a weather report from his current professional travels in Europe. He’ll talk about change management, too. 😉







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