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Volunteer Power!

Volunteer Power News — Number 27
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

© 2005 Advantage Point Systems Publishing

A warm welcome to all volunteer managers—those of you who recruit, motivate and mobilize volunteer workers.

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In this issue:

  • An apology
  • Case study: Calvin and Hobbs-Handling staff resistance to the working with volunteers
  • Cool stuff that you have never heard before follow up

An Apology

If you haven't received the Volunteer Power newsletter last month, it is my fault. In the midst of a crazy travel and speaking schedule, we moved from last week and set up a new office. I didn't get the newsletter out for about 8 weeks and with this one I'll get back on track.

Case Study: Calvin and Hobbs - the staff resistance problem

One of the major issues in volunteer management is getting the staff excited about working with volunteers. I just finished a workshop last week with city employees who are asked to recruit, motivate and manage volunteers. I had a wonderful time with these folks who appreciate the many hours of labor, vision and passion that volunteers bring to the city workforce.

I used this case study and I share it with you. Copy it and hand it out to your staff. Use the discussion questions at the end to bring up some of the issue your staff might be having with the question of volunteer/staff relationships.

Symptoms of Staff Resistance
Calvin and Hobbs

Calvin is a manager in the Collinsville city library. He just came back from a meeting of librarians and is pumped about how many libraries are using volunteers to staff many of the library positions. Calvin had attended a volunteer power workshop and as part of that workshop he visited a city library in the city of the seminar and was taken back by the volunteer room. The volunteers had their own room for processing books. The room was filled with about fifteen volunteers working on the many books, videos, CDs and even laser discs that had been donated to the library. In visiting with one of the volunteers, he found out that over 300 people were volunteering for the library, and the money they saved on staff enabled the city library to increase their hours for the public.

When Calvin arrived back to work, he assigned one of the library employees, Hobbs, the job of developing the volunteer program. Hobbs was livid. His feeling was, "I'm already six weeks behind and now you want me to recruit, motivate and manage a bunch of volunteers who won't show up half the time. You've got to be kidding. And I wanted to start an after school program for kids."

Calvin told Hobbs that if they didn't get some volunteers for the library, the library funds would be cut even more. Volunteers were a way to offer more services to the public. Calvin took on some of Hobbs' responsibilities and assigned Hobbs the new task.

Hobbs gave it his best try and in six months brought Calvin a request for resources to accomplish their tasks. Volunteers are asking for the following resources to accomplish their tasks:

  • office/workshop space;
  • access to telephones, photocopiers, internet, email etc;
  • furniture, stationery, tools and other materials;
  • refreshments for volunteers
  • premier parking spaces
  • special library privileges.

Calvin told Hobbs to give them what they wanted. The volunteers were having an impact, so make it work. Hobbs agreed that the volunteers had brought in a lot of enthusiasm to the library, but he just was frustrated. Every week one of his ten volunteers didn't show up. He muttered as he went back to his desk, "Why can't we just get the city to put more money in the library so I can hire staff to handle these jobs?"

Discussion Questions:

  1. What went wrong? List all of the problems you can see in this case study.
  2. How could the problems have been avoided?
  3. What could be done to reduce staff resistance? Use some of your experiences to show what you have done to address the problem of staff resistance to the volunteer program.

Volunteer Retention

This newsletter is the fifth in our "Cool Stuff that you never heard before" follow up. - Retention. The order you selected as the most important are:

Number One: Motivation -- How to keep my volunteers motivated so that they keep their commitments
Number Two: Recruiting -- How to get quality people to join our volunteer team.
Number Three: Networking -- How to build strategic alliances to find volunteers
Number Four: Branding -- How to establish a well recognized brand such as "Habit for Humanity" or "BMW—the Ultimate Driving Experience" for our organization.
Number Five: Retention -- How to keep our quality volunteers from quitting
Number Six: Managing -- How to juggling multiple projects of volunteer management.

NOTE: For those of you who have missed the previous newsletters, you can catch up on the "cool stuff" series:
Number 22: Cool stuff you've never heard before
Number 23: Motivation
Number 24: Recruiting
Number 25: Networking
Number 26: Branding
Number 27: Retention (that's this issue)

This Issue: Retention

Ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What is your retention rate?
  2. How do you keep you volunteers?
  3. Do you agree with this statement? "It is 10 times easier to keep a volunteer happier than to recruit a new volunteer." Or the reverse statement? It take 10 times more effort to recruit a new volunteer than to keep a current volunteer.

Before we address the subject of retention ask yourself what your retention rate is. If it is 91% or over, you are doing well. A 9% loss of volunteer should include all volunteers who retire, finish a term of office (and do not continue in some volunteer capacity, or have an emergency). This is normal attrition. When you are losing more than 9% then something is wrong and people are quitting because of the volunteer program.

The number one reason people quit is leadership. It hopefully isn't you, but one of your volunteer leaders. The 21st century volunteer doesn't want to waste time working on a committee that is facilitated by someone who is late, does follow through or is just incompetent.

The second reason people quit is that they don't feel that what they are doing is making a difference. People don't want to make a contribution, they want to make a difference.

To reverse the quitting trend, we need to address these two problems. The first problem is very difficult and the second one is easy. Let's tackle the hard one first.

Incompetent Leadership

What do you do with a wonderful person who has been with the organization for many years, is very faithful and committed to your organization, but has turned off so many new volunteers because of their lack of ability to lead a meeting or organize an event-and they love to do both of those things.

I have several suggestions-and I've tried them all.

  1. Get involved in putting all of your teams together. Make sure that the chairpersons of each committee are excellent leaders. Don't leave the selection of leaders to the average committee. Take an active role and come prepared to the meeting with suggested leaders.
  2. Meet with the wonderful, incompetent people who want to lead, and suggest special projects that they can do either alone or with other volunteers who are not as critical and seem to put up with wonderful, incompetent people. Bottom line, find a job were the wonderful, incompetent person can be competent.
  3. Bite the bullet and change the leadership-this is the hard way, but sometimes it is the only way.


There is a very simple, very inexpensive way to retain volunteers. It is not in prizes and awards. It is in one word. Feedback. Well, I know, this is not really new. It is really very old, but probably the most important.

  • Tell them-just say "Thanks for all you do"
  • Send a thank you note. I use to write out one thank you note each week and another one on each volunteer's birthday.
  • Give special rewards for outstanding service (like gift certificates to a restaurant or special event)
  • MBWA - manage by walking around. Just show up and watch people do volunteer work. Spend a few minutes talking with the people who are stuffing envelopes.
  • Keep a record of your feedback. Just write down every volunteer's name and note how many times you give each person feedback.

Next newsletter: Managing-how to juggle the multiple projects of volunteer management.

Thomas W. McKee
Volunteer Power

Tom McKee is a leading volunteer management speaker, trainer and consultant. You can reach Tom at (916) 987-0359 or e-mail him at tom@advantagepoint.com. Other articles and free resources are available at www.volunteerpower.com.

For more articles by Thomas McKee, visit the Articles section on our website.

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