Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mentorship = program survivability

(Note to my boss when you read this- no I am not interviewing :) ) 

As your program grows you have the responsibility to make sure it survives & thrives.  If you don't the program will probably fail since you are the only one to know how to run it.
So two things you should be doing:
  1. Internal mentor- You should have someone internal to your organization (Boss, employee, ??) you can train on the processes that make your program run effectively.  And of course you have an internal document written that lists and explains all of the processes (with passwords & ID) that make your program run.
  2. Internal Volunteer Leadership- You should also be developing a few volunteers from your program who can help keep things running effectively should you move on to another job.  Maybe they understand how you run events, training & recruiting (all external facing) and can help the person in #1 above keep the program moving forward.
If you have not done either of these things you are short changing your volunteers who are depending on the you & the program.  And if you are in the disaster space, that means you are letting down the community you support. Take these steps today to make sure your program survives & thrives:
  • Map out your processes- list steps & who the connection is at that step
  • List all website links utilized with sign in information
  • Take these two documents to you boss and talk about succession planning (he/she will thank you)
  • Look at volunteers in your organization wanting to help - plan how to utilize them more fully
These steps will make you and your boss sleep better


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Volunteer Manager = Project Manager

So in case I haven’t said it yet, planning is paramount in your job as a volunteer manager.  If you don’t take the time to plan, you will fall into one of three categories:
1.      You spend all your time recruiting because you are losing them as fast as you find them
2.      You spend all your time with the volunteers because you aren’t setting them up for success
3.      You are clueless and think all those names you haven’t touched in ages are attached to people who will actually show up when you need them most

You have several jobs as a Disaster Volunteer manager; you might even say you are a project manager:
1.      You have to recruit volunteers
  • Putting up posters
  • Presentations
  • Facebook
  • Interviews with the media
  • Always talking up your unit

2.      You have to process the paperwork for those volunteers (and answer questions, and orient them to the unit)
  • Signatures
  •  Background checks
  • Testing
  • Files

3.      You have Manage their files and them
  • You have some type of filing system
  • Some type of checklist to make sure everything is done
  • Reporting to someone

4.      You have to find and often conduct training for them, disaster volunteers need training and exercising to be ready
  • Training whether it’s on-line of in person takes time, to set up and conduct (and then you have to document they were there)

5.      And if you want to keep them you have to find appropriate and fulfilling assignments for them; I think this is the most difficult and time consuming
  •  Find the event
  • Set it up
  • Ask for volunteers from your volunteers
  • Set up the schedule, where to go, when to be there
  • Check up on them, thank them in person 
  •  And of course when it’s over the reports, document their files, etc.

However, if you are doing things correctly you will be the volunteer manager who can:

  • Spend their time meeting your volunteers for coffee on Saturday mornings
  • Accompanying them on projects and watching with pride as they do their thing
  • Work on other projects (you probably have other things to do)

Treat your work like a project, breaking it into smaller pieces and see how fast you will accomplish things and how effective you will become.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Seize the moment

So often I am involved in conversations about  my favorite nightmare- Spontaneous volunteers! Yes they are a reality of the disaster scene and in many cases useful.  But lets suppose our spontaneous volunteer plan worked perfectly and now we are winding down the disaster and have 1,000 Spontaneous volunteer cards... Can we convert any of these folks into registered volunteers (you will need less next time)
So here are some things that have worked for me:
  • After all is calm, set up a potluck have everyone bring something; your organization can spring for drinks (water, soft drinks.etc) 
  • Once you have RSVP's invite everyone to e-mail pictures they took during the event (everyone has a smart phone) Then ask your PIO for any photos they took or can find of volunteers in action.
  • Set up a slide show of disaster pictures to run on the wall during the event.
  • Make thank you certificates for each volunteer (even those that didn't RSVP, you can mail them)
Once the evening (or weekend lunch) arrives, greet everyone at the door and welcome them.  Introduce them to someone else, then ask them to introduce themselves around.
  • Invite everyone to line up for food, serve themselves and sit and enjoy, (not too many tables so they have to sit together).
  • Show the slide show, everyone likes to see themselves. It will cause conversation
  • After dinner/lunch , introduce the disaster, the scope, what your organization (with their help) accomplished, how many people they helped, etc.
  • Hand out certificates, thank them again
  • Explain whats next, how much work their is to do the get ready for the next one
  • Invite them to stay on as full time volunteers
  • make sure everyone has the volunteer manager as well as the supervising managers email addresses.

We did this after Hurricane Gustav @ the Red Cross and had a very good conversion of volunteers.  Write something like this into your plan.  What to do after the calm!

disaster_ dave

Sunday, June 3, 2012

High turnover rate of volunteers or are you bleeding volunteers

So you have come up with a plan and gone out and spent countless weekends and evenings talking up your organization and your volunteer pool is growing, but no one is showing up  for events or answering your email (hint: volunteers very seldom tell you they left, they just fade away).  When you think about losing volunteers, and you think about all the time you spent getting them. Sigh.
So what happened?
A study in Volunteering in America points to many things that cause you to bleed volunteers and you have to stop them cold.  There are many, lets just tackle a few:
Organizations try to fit a round peg in a square hole - When you bring a disaster volunteer into your organization, I am sure you have job descriptions made out for all positions.  Utilize these job descriptions to help your volunteer find the right fit for them, also consider their physical ability, education and skills for the job. You both need to agree that it is the right fit.  If you force them into the wrong position they will quietly leave.  It doesn’t mean to make special job for them stick to your plan.

The volunteers weren’t invited to do things - Volunteers don’t join to sit on a database, especially in the disaster world, they join to DO!  Invite the volunteers to come and help out, no matter what the event.  I talked in an earlier section about why I conduct orientation in person, it is the time when I personally invite them to help and be involved.  In my organization we use email for our first reach to fill positions, and I always write in a casual style and make the volunteer feel as if I am talking directly to them.  While I have hundreds of volunteers I want each to feel I am talking to them.

Volunteering takes too much time - A big mistake is not to be ready for the volunteer when they show up.  When I started in volunteer management I had a manager who utilized volunteers I got for him.  I noticed that he sat around for over an hour shooting the breeze with this group when they came in.  It came to pass that the volunteers where frustrated, while they liked the manager, they felt like they were being wasted, they didn’t come to talk they came to work.   So I worked with the manager to help him understand what he was wasting.  Helped him stack up tasks and have them ready when the group showed up, a few minutes of chit chat and I would point at my watch and he would send them out.  These three guys were some of the most productive volunteers I ever saw.  The manager eventually moved to emailing the tasks out to the volunteers ahead of time and often times they went straight to the assignment location instead of the office first.

Organizations do not take effective volunteer management practices - It is important to not only plan a recruiting plan, but also a plan to utilize your disaster volunteers.  It is more important and this is harder than finding them.

In the end you have to take the time and the effort to be involved with your volunteers. You have to talk to them, get to know them and spend time moving them in the direction you want.  Building a volunteer pool that is effective is not like collecting things.  You can’t just stack them up and wait.