Heather Comstock Connects

Helping nonprofits and other volunteer organizations develop strong relationships and a clear voice in the community.

Best/Worst Volunteer Positions Ever

Imperial Storm Troopers know a thing or two about good and bad volunteer positions.

Much of my volunteer philosophy is based more on work AS a volunteer as opposed to the professional time I spent coordinating volunteers. I don’t think volunteers really view the staff as a resource and support and therefore when things aren’t going smoothly they try to muddle through alone. Staff usually don’t find out there is a problem until the whole thing has reached Def Con Five status which just reinforces an “us vs. them” mentality.

In reviewing my previous experiences two organizations stand out as the Best Experience Ever and Worst Experience Ever. The reason these two stand in such stark relief is the way volunteers were viewed and treated.

Worst Experience Ever

In my worst experience, the primary problem was there was no supervision or support for volunteers. When you were tasked with doing something, you weren’t sure how to request funding, who was in charge, and what parameters were set on volunteering. Because there was no supervision (and nature abhors a vacuum) other volunteers became the leadership and ran rampant over other individuals that didn’t conform to their ideals until they successfully culled through the ones that didn’t toe the line. I left, taking my financial support and volunteer labor with me. And nobody from the organization ever contacted me to find out why.

Best Experience Ever

I started volunteering last year with a large and well-organized organization. Volunteers are the core of the organization’s ability to deliver services to clients and our importance is apparent. First and foremost, the organization has extensive training opportunities available to help volunteers grow in the organization. Not only is the training available in person, its also online which is great for someone like me with scheduling challenges. They provide a variety of plug and play materials so I don’t have to come up with new ideas constantly, but there’s room in the program for me to be creative. I understand the chain of command and what I should do and who I should contact in the event there is a problem or concern. The local leadership has proactively checked in with me to see how its going, not waiting for me to call them with a question. I feel the love!

In considering these two experiences here are some points for organizations to keep in mind with their own volunteer programs:

  • Clear chain of command – who is in charge, who do I go to if there’s a problem?
  • Never let other volunteers abuse other volunteers!
  • Make sure volunteers understand their role in the big picture and how they contribute to the well-being and success of the organization.
  • Provide training and support for your volunteer-based programs including advising them of liabilities and legal issues and the protections in place to prevent problems.
  • Provide materials for volunteers to do their task but leave room for individual creativity.
  • Proactively check in with volunteers – this helps you avoid Def Con Five nuclear meltdowns before they happen and provides continuous feedback on your program.
  • Conduct some sort of exit interview when you lose volunteers to find out why.

As an end note, one my pet peeves is Volunteer Appreciation Dinners. Usually, these are once a year and people get a certificate and the whole experience is a throwaway. If your volunteers don’t feel appreciated every time they interact with your organization, all the dinners in the world aren’t going to mean anything.

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