Sunday, November 3, 2013

Volunteer issues or, I really don't need your help

What do you do when a volunteer goes out of bounds; either in representing the organization (where/how you don't want to be represented) or asking for things you do not want (money, help, changes). 
First its good to understand as a citizen the volunteer can do anything they want, ask for things, and talk to government employees as a citizen, what they can not do is speak for your organization (unless you assigned her that task)
Eventually this is going to happen to all of us, no matter how implicit we make our rules.  I do not have all the answers, but this seems like a good path:
  1. You treat it like an employee issue, with graduated levels of intervention.
o   You of course want to start at the lowest level, and this typically could be an email, or a sit down chat about the incident and how it is affecting your mission and/or time.  Thank him for caring and maybe help him find other channels. (Make sure you document the conversation in your calendar)
o   If it continues, then you may have to get more stringent and bring in your HR folks (they know the laws) and and/or your supervisor.  Explain again your policies and why they are in place and how the organization operates.  Make sure they understand they are free to represent their opinions and beliefs, but are not free to project them on the organization. (Document)
o   You will want to involve HR if it continues,this is someplace you don’t want to tread alone; but if you have made yourself clear and documented all steps, it may be time for the volunteer to leave the organization. Yes volunteers can be let go.

2.     The second thing you should do is make sure you have been clear and have not in anyway asked her (or made her think you are asking) for help with the matter at hand.

3.     You may also want to reach out to anyone contacted by the volunteer and make sure they understand your policies and what you want to do.
Questions? Comments?


Friday, October 11, 2013

What is your plan B for volunteer management

Most government offices of emergency management have a plan for donation and volunteer management (the fact that they think those go together is another blog post). 

Many of those plans are written with the considerations that everything else is okay and functioning normally. So what happens when you Plan A doesn't work, as it didn't recently in the attached article?

Lack of Volunteers Leads Wayne to Take the Reigns on Recovery

Remember the agencies you have identified in your plan, Red Cross, 211, Salvation Army, are made up of people in your community and they are affected too. So have a back up plan

If 211 is down, is there another business in town (or outside town) that has multiple lines?

How can you tell people the # to call ? Flyers? Broadcast Radio? TV? 

How do you organize the task, people and hours?

This is much easier to do before the disaster



Monday, September 2, 2013

Donation Management & You

 First off, I know this is a volunteer blog, but who do you suppose ends up running

donation management sites? Could it be that for years, FEMA packaged donation management and volunteer management into the same 2 day class?  Could it be that people speak about donations and volunteers in the same breath? Using this search in Google volunteer & donation management I got 18,200,000 results.  Now granted they will go down hill in their focus, but you get the idea.

Not to regurgitate basic donation management practices of which you can see by using the above search method.  I thought instead I would post this well written article  "Who Is Responsible for the “Second Disaster”?"  

The article talks about some of the changes in donations and how to get them there.  Do we really need peoples old clothes, or do we need to be more surgical and use our technology.  Could we follow some examples and use Amazon Wish Lists

Some of the things this technology fixes right away: 

  • No cash through the mail

  • Don't have to worry about where how to ship it (never saw a Big Brown Truck not deliver)

  • Target what you REALLY need

  • Getting items to people fast

 This is not an endorsement for Amazon, just an endorsement for thinking outside the box and being strategic in our thinking so the picture to the right isn't the end of our next disaster. (

So what can you do? Search out training in donation management and go introduce yourself to you local emergency manager and say "I'm here to help plan for donation management"- I bet they sigh with relief. 


Sunday, August 18, 2013

What happens when the volunteers quit coming

I was in Moore Oklahoma in June and the amount of volunteer help there was staggering as was the need.  But according to this article the volunteers have slowed.  But why is this happening? The need is there, and people don't stop caring.  I do not know, but it worries me that there is a need but not enough help.  So lets look at a couple of things we could do to help ourselves.
We know volunteers want to know what they are doing, who they are helping.  So if you are appealing for volunteers after a disaster make sure you are using SMART when advertising for volunteers to help.
  1. Specific - What is the project (who will it help- put a face on it)
  2. Measurable - What do you expect to be accomplished and how will it fill a need for the face in #1
  3. Attainable - It has to be doable with an end point even if it is something several groups work on. Everyone wants to have a sense of accomplishment in the end
  4. Relevant- This should be easy. We are doing recovery for those who most need it not corporations
  5. Time Bound- Start and stop times
So what else can help?  Just some suggestions:
Ask Groups- Churches, companies employee groups,  Youth groups, etc.  Why? They bring their own management structure which helps free you up to do other things.

Make it easy to volunteer! Do you have a gym and cots where they can crash for the 1-7 days they are there? Can you feed them?  Can you send them the paperwork to fill out in advance?Did you tell them to bring tools, gloves, etc.
Remember they are volunteering, so the easier you can make it the more likely you can get groups in.

We can never depend on the Government to do everything (that's not a political statement). Recovery takes a long time and the long game needs some thought, finesse, planning.
Don't think its a long game? When was Joplin? Look at this STORY

Lets take some time to think about Recovery and how we will get help from volunteer groups now, while its calm


Friday, July 19, 2013

Never put Volunteers in "Maintenance Mode"

 This article has been siting in my inbox for a bit,  NEMA Reactivates Emergency Volunteer Corps To Handle Disasters
It was disturbing to me on a couple of levels, the first was the title. Why are they reactivating? Why were the deactivated?  Volunteer organizations are not something that you build and forget.  It takes work to build a solid high performing volunteer organization and in some respects takes more work to keep it at that level.  I hear people who don't understand volunteers say things like "well we have enough, we should put that in maintenance mode".   That is code for less work on that item.  Sadly that is when programs start to fall apart, because no one is caring for the organization.

The second was a quote in the article  " Otegbade who decried the poor participation of volunteers during emergencies, urged them to see themselves as major stakeholders in disaster management". Really? Have you heard "Praise in Public Counsel in Private"?  Another one from my Military life "You are responsible for everything your troops do or fail to do"
Maybe Commodore Otegbade needs to look at the volunteers and think, if we are having to have this conversation, maybe its not them.
So just some finer points:
  • Volunteers join an organization to DO
  • You as the leader have the responsibility (to the volunteer and the community) to provide worthwhile training and practice to keep the volunteer sharp
  • You as the leader must walk the walk and never put your volunteers in "Maintenance mode"
  • Being a volunteer leader is sometimes an exhausting job, but you are making a difference!
Okay I am done now, go do great things!

Otegbade who decried the poor participation of volunteers during emergencies, urged them to see themselves as major stakeholders in disaster management. - See more at:
Otegbade who decried the poor participation of volunteers during emergencies, urged them to see themselves as major stakeholders in disaster management. - See more at:
Otegbade who decried the poor participation of volunteers during emergencies, urged them to see themselves as major stakeholders in disaster management. - See more at:
Otegbade who decried the poor participation of volunteers during emergencies, urged them to see themselves as major stakeholders in disaster management. - See more at:
NEMA Reactivates Emergency Volunteer Corps To Handle Disasters - See more at:
NEMA Reactivates Emergency Volunteer Corps To Handle Disasters - See more at:
NEMA Reactivates Emergency Volunteer Corps To Handle Disasters - See more at:
NEMA Reactivates Emergency Volunteer Corps To Handle Disasters - See more at:
NEMA Reactivates Emergency Volunteer Corps To Handle Disasters - See more at:
NEMA Reactivates Emergency Volunteer Corps To Handle Disasters - See more at:

NEMA Reactivates Emergency Volunteer Corps To Handle Disasters

- See more at:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

What do you do when they come

We like to look at our operations and think we have a plan and it will all go along nicely. But what do you do when they come. You know the individuals and groups you wrote into your plan.  Because we all wrote the Israelis into our plans right? Or the biker group that takes over a disaster area and runs it with military efficiency they  are in your plan too, right?

So what do we do? Turn down the help because its different? If you experience a catastrophic disaster, you will need the help.  So the fix is to plan for the unexpected now.

Because the biggest disservice you can do for your community is to not be ready to accept help as in this excerpt (underline is mine) from the article here.
"At the time of the Hanshin earthquake, the concept of “disaster-relief volunteers” was not well known. When we set out to help, I first visited the Nagata Ward office and told an official that I wanted to volunteer. The official there told me to write my name on a sheet. That was it — he couldn’t explain anything about the volunteer situation."

 Make your plan flexible enough that no matter where people come from you can assign them a task to accomplish.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

A New Better Volunteer Model

 In time of disaster the volunteers will come, but as we move forward in planning it seems to me that we need to engage the none profit community. And then I saw this - SRC United Way Has New Role in Emergency Response. 
And I thought yes that is the plan.  So what are the benefits?  
  • In a disaster the government will be busy and with falling budgets may have to divert human capital to run volunteer centers
  • As a non profit, they could do volunteer management for many organizations
  • As a central point for the community move volunteer to where they are most needed
  • A central point to collect ALL volunteer hours helps the municipality meet its share of the Disaster recovery cost
  • Other non profits may be more comfortable working with other non profits
  • And finally As the United Way is community focused they make a great partner for preparedness before the disaster 
 Negatives?  I don't really see any, anytime we can involve a non governmental partner in the planning before a disaster is a plus.
So who is running volunteer management in your community?

Disaster Dave

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Volunteer Management in Disaster- you are behind when you start

Last week I attended a a Volunteer Reception Center exercise by one of my contemporaries who is the EM coordinator for ESCA (a consortium of smaller cities who have come together to hire an Emergency Management group across two counties). A tip of the hat to Dan Good who wrote the plan and conducted the drill.
Our conversation got me thinking about this question:

As we have seen in the last few disasters the Volunteer Reception Centers are set up days after the impact. So what do you do to get all the spontaneous volunteers who are already running shelters, cleaning up and many other important task signed up?

Why bother you might say? Just a couple of good reasons:
  1.  The first is command and control! Not doing things twice; knowing the volunteer is who they say they are.
  2. The Second reason is that if this disaster becomes a presidential declared disaster you will have a chance for reimbursement from the Federal Government and State.  Typically you (or your county or state)have a percentage of that to share.  Usually 75% Feds + 25% at the state level, and the state often splits the 25% with the municipality. Guess what? Those volunteer hours can help pay down your city/counties portion.  But you have to track them.
Did that help get your attention? 

So now you have your Volunteer center up and are smoothly signing people in and dispatching them to leaders who will use them.  So now to scoop up the un-registered volunteer; you can do several things and these are just suggestions:
  1. send a team out in the field to register and brief people where they are (big groups).  take water and snacks to show support and give them a reason to stop working.
  2. Put the word out to the leaders of operations at the next meeting that all volunteers must pass through the registration station and you will get them back ASAP.
  3. Set up the sign up team at a common point- chow hall/shower area/sleeping area

Other reasons to get the unregistered logged in:
  •  Making sure everyone is working off the same page
  • Liability protection
  • Proper numbers for feeding- nothing like a tired hungry volunteer when you tell him not enough food
  • Proper numbers for sleeping places- Except a tired dirty volunteer with no place to sleep
  • Enough shower & bathrooms
  • Enough medical folks to care for booboo's

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ahhh my nightmare is true!

If I have one thing that wakes me in the middle of the night it is having 100’s, no thousands of spontaneous volunteers showing up after a catastrophic event! But that would never happen, right? Read this then come back, lets talk!

In April there was an earthquake near Longmen Township China that killed 160 and injured over 1,600.  But that is not the story I want to highlight here.  What we want to consider is what happened after.

Consider the words of Luo Ming the team leader with the Sichuan Emergency Response Volunteer Group “The volunteers have created a certain kind of disaster themselves,” he says, speaking with the rapid speech of someone who has not slept in 48 hours. “It seems like there are more volunteers than there are earthquake victims. They have no place to sleep, and nothing to eat, and most of them have no experience or training.”

There were so many people streaming into the area that the government had to block the area off and restrict access.

While I believe there are places for spontaneous volunteers; the ones who are there when it happens and pitch in the save their neighbors and secure the area.  But having people just show up with no training and no support is just adding to the problem. 

One of the things that a catastrophic disaster has is lack of everything, food, water, bathrooms, places to sleep; why would someone insert himself or herself into that?  Because they don’t understand the problem!

First we need to know who you are?
What skills do you have?
Are you committed or just a disaster tourist?
What support do you have (or do we as an organization provide)?
Can we utilize your skills (or lack of) outside the disaster area in support?

Your local emergency manager is going to busy trying to help the community; lets not give them another thing to worry about. So please pick one:

1.    If you really desire to be part of the solution, please go register for an organized group:
2.    Or stay home

PS: I vote you pick # 1, you'll be proud of yourself


Sunday, April 14, 2013

A higher level of professionalism for volunteers

As we require a higher level of training for our volunteers we end up with more training time.  This is a double edged sword.

First it means more of a commitment from our volunteers - I have spent the last year becoming qualified as a volunteer Response Team Member for Shelterbox.  During that time I have spent hundreds of dollars, flown to Texas (on my own dime) lived outdoors in 100 degree heat and traveled again to England where I lived outdoors in cold wet weather just to become qualified as a VOLUNTEER. So why did I spend time and money to volunteer?  Because the mission of the organization speaks to me.

During all that time flying I began to think about the process I was in and the process for the volunteer program I manage and I came up with a few things to think about.
  1. What is the goal of your program? How can you make it approachable, but not make it too easy? You have to keep the standards so that your volunteers feel well trained when they go into their first event. 
  2. The training shouldn't stop once they get their badge - consider mentors.  Even after all I noted about my training, I am still considered a "trainee" until my first deployment; nothing test you like the real thing.
  3. Your training better be awesome! If your newly found volunteers give up their evenings or weekends for training don't waste their time.  Make the training topical and interesting.
  4. Make them part of the organization by asking some questions:
    1. Did this training meet your expectations?
    2. Do you feel prepared for _______?
    3. What would they change?

While volunteers work for free, they are not cheap, you have to spend the time and effort to make them fully trained and integrated.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Technology for Volunteer Programs

 I think we can all agree that one of the things all volunteer programs do not have in abundance is money for systems. Luckily there are lots of online tools to use to speak with, sign up and move your volunteers.  Today I want to take a few minutes to point out a few that I use in my program.  There are many web-based tools out there, if I missed one please let me know.  I only have two requirements:
  1. It must be EASY to use - Dummy proof you might say
  2. It must be my favorite price- FREE
Here are a few I like:

Zoomerang for Surveys & Polls they have combined Survey Monkey and Zoomerang.  Cant get any easier than this.  This is what I use to do my annual surveys of volunteers.  Works great, exports to EXCEL and makes nice Graphs.

 Doodle for finding the right dates for a meeting

 Sign up Genius   This is my new favorite online tool. We need to schedule shifts in a shelter, or a event. The cool thing is it won't let you over-staff, always a hassle to call volunteers back and say  "we have too many". The other cool thing is the volunteer can see who they will serve with.

DropBox  I use this to share Powerpoints that are too big to mail.  Its free, but if you send someone a document with this and they sign up to use it (So they can see the document) you get added free storage space.  A great tool!

Form Builder - Can be used to build online forms.  Pretty cool, but can't stay with free for long if you use it alot.

Free Quiz Maker  I see some pretty cool uses for this, you could design your own tests on YOUR procedures.  I will have to spend some time with it

Poll Everywhere - Saw this used at a conference, while the individual might get charges for SMS, it makes for a pretty slick presentation

While I am not advocating using either Bing or Google for serious translation, they are good for a quick peek at what someone is saying; but if its important get a real translator.

Bing Translate
Google Translate

And just a couple of cool websites thrown in for fun (cause I'm a fun guy)

HayStack - this is a real cool website to test your passwords on- interesting

Wordle- Beautiful words - You can paste any document (CEMP, Volunteer Policies, anything) and it will make a beautiful picture of the words.

Disaster Dave

Sunday, February 3, 2013

How many volunteers do you REALLY have

So you have worked hard, probably for a couple of years building your pool of disaster volunteers, and in a moment of empty space you think "How many of those names will show up if we need them?"  Which is either followed by a satisfying sigh or EEEKKKKKK!

When I was at the Red Cross we planned on only 40% of our volunteers showing up, due to many factors; vacation, they can't get off work, they were part of the affected population, they can't get there, they are not comfortable in the environment (Think H1N1).  Many searches of web articles list 50% show rate.  So whats a Disaster Volunteer Manager to do?

If you have 500 volunteers then best case you have a show rate of 200.  Is that enough to fill your mission? How many locations do you have to staff? How many shifts do you need to fill? How many people will work more than one shift?
The above are some questions you need to answer.  

The danger is if your management looks at your numbers and think you can deliver ALL of those volunteers, they are going to be disappointed in you.

So what can you do to get the maximum turn out for a disaster?  Here are some things that work for me and my program:

  • Communication - this is one of the most important steps. Don't sign them up and forget them.  If you deploy disaster volunteers, make sure you let EVERYONE know what the deployment group accomplished.
  • Train them - if they feel comfortable with the equipment they will need to use they will be more likely to show.
  • Train them how to protect themselves - I went to great links to get someone in to train on working in a Nuclear environment, why?  Because we have a Port! Because working with radiation is scarier than it really is.  Because its one of the scariest things that we could work in.
  • Deploy them - So I know the title is disaster volunteers and you can't just make disasters (well you can, but its illegal). But what will they do in a disaster? In my case its medical care, so we looked for opportunities to do medical care.  We currently provide care for the homeless at two shelters on a monthly basis.  We support city and Red Cross shelters with medical support, we do medical counseling at neighborhood fairs.  So look around and find someone who needs help and help them.
  •  Did I mention communicate - Email, Face Book, Linked In, give them things to look at, things to read. Tell them about the cool things THEY are doing!
  • Survey says - Annually (I usually do it in April) survey your volunteers; ask them some things you want to know. How long have they been volunteers? How often do they respond? What ideas do they have?, etc
  • Involve them - Give them projects. Give them leadership positions. Ask them questions.
  • Thank them- Remember they are volunteers, recognize their sacrifice and genuinely thank them for what they do.
 Lastly, make sure your leadership understands what it takes to do all this, that finding them, recruiting them and keeping them takes time and money. 
And please explain that you don't really have 500 volunteers!

Disaster Dave

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Opportunities to serve or how not to sit on a database

Want your volunteers to be there when you really need them (disasters)? 

Then find ways to engage them today. I often repeat, "Volunteers don't join an organization to sit in a database".  Yet that is one of the most common complaints I here from volunteers. "I did all this training, paperwork and now what..."

So again I don't have all the answers, but you might.
I began by looking at my organizations mission and seeing what wasn't getting done, or who needed help. And low and behold there was work for my volunteers to do.  
  • Our volunteers currently hold medical clinics for the homeless once per month in two separate locations.
  • Our volunteers (Hams) are currently working on identifying rally locations in our county that have good communications paths.  It will be a place we roll out to all of our volunteers (400+) this summer and test.  After we have proven the viability we will offer this site to our employee network.
  • We support Red Cross shelters during times of need (Nurses & EMTs).
  • We have used support volunteers to help us repackage some critical supplies in our warehouse.

All of this takes time and project management , yes and weekends on my part. But I believe in my program and my volunteers and they want to be useful now, they want to do now, so I continue to look for opportunities to put them to work.

After all that's why they joined, not to sit on a database !


Sunday, January 20, 2013

So you found them, now what?

You have done the work to find your new volunteer(s), what do you do next?
 Have them read a rule book (yawn), talk on the phone (not personal enough); have them watch an online orientation from home (seriously). Now I know there may be good reasons to use one of these methods; but I can't think of any!
Your volunteers came to you because of two things: 
1. They want to do, to be, to make a difference
 and/or 2. In a small way depending on your recruiting system, they came because of you and want to meet you
I am a firm believer in looking my new folks in the eye and telling them what I expect of them and what they can expect of me/my program. I want to see them and they want to see me.
And yes we have a lot to do as volunteer managers, so I am going to outline what I do and then some riffs you can use to help if you think its too much. 
My program has no advertising budget, and virtually no support from our internal public affairs group. Yet with a group of over 400 volunteers we still orient 10-20 new volunteers every month. The important distinction is orient; only about 75% of those who attend orientation finish the process and I'm okay with that (more later). Once a month (Thursday night twice per quarter and Saturday mid morning for the other) we hold an orientation beginning at 530 and ending around 700 PM (Saturday 1000-1130). 
What my PowerPoint orientation looks like:
  • ·      Where the MRC came from

  • ·      What it is

  • ·      What it isn't

  • ·      How our unit functions and fits into the big picture

  • ·      Why its important they register now - not after something happens
  • ·      What we expect from them
  • ·      What they can expect from us (Our promise)
  • ·      
Protection under the laws (Very important for licensed volunteers)
  • ·      Personal & Family preparedness
  • ·      What our unit does (activities so far this year & planned)
  • ·      Reoccurring medical missions

  • ·      Training and exercise
  • ·      
What kind of equipment we have to serve
  • ·      Partnerships for deployments - Red Cross and City disaster sheltering (Last year our volunteers served over 1,200 hours touching people that needed help- not training)
  • ·      Questions
  • ·      My last ask is join us on Face book - talks to us (ideas, complaints)
  • ·      If you like what you hear tell your friends and co workers about us (My advertising is here)
I feel like this gives my potential volunteers enough information to know what they are getting into.
So now to the 25% drop rate; they must go home and complete IS 100 and IS 700 before they can become active. Once that is completed, we do the background check and issue a badge with an EW # on it (and a cool fleece MRC Vest). I remind them a couple of times, if no response I transfer them to the ESAR VHP and let them know they can rejoin at any time. It is better to know I have a smaller number of committed volunteers than think I have 4,000 volunteers. 
(More later about how I am sure I really have 400+ volunteers)
  • My area is too big for me to go to all the volunteers- then how can you provide supervision? Oh you use a senior volunteer in that county, area, cool. Let them do the Face-to-Face orientation- great connection point.
  • The volunteer is too busy - Then I submit if they can't give up a couple of hours, they won't show up for a real disaster.
  • I'm too busy- Suck it up, this is what we do, some days are longer than others, take an extra hour for lunch. Sorry, don't mean to be harsh, but I consider this 1.5 hours a month the best part of my job!
I don't have all the answers, but this works for me and my organization, how do I know? When I call them to serve I have to turn people away. I also am constantly looking for ways to give them a chance to serve while we wait (another blog)
Want to see my orientation? - Connect with me

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Who is Vulnerable?

It is important to understand that to be young or old, a woman or a person with a disability or HIV does not, of itself, make a person vulnerable or at increased risk. Rather, it is the interplay of factors that does so... (The Sphere Project- Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response)

I find I am often in conversations about how to serve people after a disaster and I hear planners talk about vulnerable populations; I wonder through what lens they are looking through?
In most cases it is often new immigrants, people with obvious disabilities and the poor.  While those are the usual suspects as the movie line goes, I believe it is important realize being from one of those categories is not what makes you vulnerable, it is the addition (or subtraction) of something.
Our daily lives are fairly comfortable by most means in the first world, but when something happens like Sandy, it quickly can become a 3rd world working area.  And with the subtraction of electricity, and easy access to the grocer, doctor and other support systems we depend on, someone can quickly become vulnerable.
As you look at your community whether you are a Emergency Manager, a CERT leader, an MRC member or any neighborhood program, look deeper than the pre identified "Vulnerable Pop" look at the family with a single parent, look at the older couple down the street who walk their dog, and seem to get along pretty well for their age, look at the new comer who just moved here and doesn't have connections to the community yet. Look at the UN definition above and as you view your population through that lens ask yourself " If that person (family) lost one of the following - power for a week, or access to the grocery store, drug store, or clean water or anything we take for granted would they become vulnerable?"  If the answer is yes, you have some more planning and teaching to do.