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Volunteer Power!
Volunteer Power News - Number 98
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

2011 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
  1. Featured Article: A Volunteer Retention Problem-Too Much Feedback
  2. Check this Out: Who Takes the Fall if Your Education Day Bombs? You Do.
Featured Article: A Volunteer Retention Problem-Too Much Feedback
A Volunteer Retention Problem--Too Much Feedback
Thomas McKee

Is it possible that you might be driving your volunteers away with too much feedback? Can too much communication be interpreted by that professional, highly educated New Breed of volunteer that you don't trust them? A 21st century report on volunteer retention suggests that supervision communication is the leading cause of volunteer attrition.

In The Urban Institute report (Hager, M.A. & Brudney, J. L. (2004). Volunteer management practices and retention of volunteers. Washington, D.C.) the researchers claimed the following:

Regular supervision and communication with volunteers is associated with lower levels of retention. Some charities may supervise and communicate in a way that volunteer experiences feel too much like the grind of their daily jobs rather than an enjoyable avocation, thereby diminishing the experience for volunteers and reducing their desire to continue volunteering.

In the chart below, they listed the eight practices adopted by most charities to increase retention. Notice that the top four practices listed have an influence, either positive or negative. The bottom four management practices listed have neither a positive or negative influence. The greatest positive influence on retention was recognition activities. But what was interesting to me was that #4 (supervision communication with volunteers) had a negative influence in retention.

Management practices adopted to large degree

1. Recognition activitiesPositive Influence -- .09*
2. Training, professional development for volunteersPositive influence -- .06
3. Screening volunteers, matching to assignmentsPositive influence -- .06
4. Supervision, communication with volunteersNegative influence -- .11
5. Written policies and job descriptionsNeither positive or negative influence
6. Training for paid staff in working with volunteersNeither positive or negative influence
7. Liability coverage and insurance protectionNeither positive or negative influence
8. Regular collection of volunteer numbers and hoursNeither positive or negative influence
(*the number on influence is multiple regression, model adjusted R2 = 0.247; magnitudes of bars are standardized betas for variables statistically significant at p <0.10;)

You don't have to know technically what "R2=0.247" means to understand that the strongest retention influence factor was supervision communication with volunteers, and that influence was negative.

I want to make three observations about this report.

First, empowerment is more important than ever for volunteer retention.

I found this study significant because for the past ten years I have been advocating that the empowerment of volunteers is one of the most significant issues for retention of The New Breed of volunteer. Today volunteers are professional. David Isner, Former CEO of Corporation for National and Community Service said about today's volunteers, "Baby boomers are today volunteering at rates that exceed volunteering among this age group over past decades by as much as 50 percent. More importantly, this best educated, healthiest, wealthiest, (emphasis mine) and longest lived generation we've ever seen will conservatively double the number of older Americans volunteering within the next ten to twenty years." Did you catch that? The best educated, healthiest, and wealthiest. We are eager to make a difference, but we don't want to be supervised, we want to be empowered.

Second, supervise is another name for micro-manage.

The problem was not communication, but supervision communication. To be a leader of volunteers in the 21st century, we need to understand the way many volunteers (especially retiring boomers) were trained in their jobs. The terms have changed. Old school management was that you were first a supervisor, then a manager and finally you were promoted to be a leader and given the title of executive. But organizational development has changed in the last quarter of the 20th century. Traditional resource managers became performance coaches in team-based organizations, Total Quality Management organizations, Matrix Teams, or Learning Organizations. I know because I was teaching this stuff in the private and public sector in the 90's. I had several human resource managers say to me before I would teach their leadership development classes, "Don't call the participants in this class 'managers'. We call them 'leaders' or 'coaches' in our company."

The retiring boomers who are volunteering resist the word supervise. They were taught that you supervise and manage things, but you lead and coach people. To this generation of volunteers to be supervised is to be micro-managed. The supervised volunteer feels l like saying, "Get off my back and leave me alone. Quit treating me like I am in grade school." But instead of voicing their frustrations, they just quit and volunteer for an enlightened organization.

Third, the question we are all thinking: "Do I ever supervise a volunteer?"

I know what some of you are thinking. What about those volunteers you have who are high maintenance and the last thing you want to do, or should do, is give them the power to make decisions and do it their way. We all have a volunteer who doesn't show up or that loose cannon who makes you ask, "Tom, are you saying that I shouldn't ever supervise a volunteer?" This is a significant question.

Let's face it, there are some volunteers who should never be empowered. They would spend your entire budget in a month or take the organization sidewise. Most of us could tell wild war stories about an empowered volunteer. But there is a greater danger than empowering that calamitous volunteer. The bigger danger that I see among leaders of volunteers is that they overact and supervise (micro-manage) all volunteers. The answer the empowerment question is, "Yes we do need to supervise some volunteers, but let's not overact and supervise everyone." Some directors of volunteers are control freaks and afraid of losing control, so they overact. I was one of those, especially when I was first learning how to lead. I did not want to give up control. But as I developed my leadership skills, I began to see that the more I empowered people and gave them the freedom to help us accomplish our mission their way and not necessarily my way, I began to have less stress (and even lowered my cholesterol). And guess what, I enjoyed my job a whole lot more.

Are you a supervisor or a leader? Are you a coach rather than a traditional manager?

To help you evaluate your leadership skills, ask yourself and your leadership team these questions:

  • Are you mission driven or process driven? Don't tell The New Breed of Volunteer "Please do this job and have it done by Friday" (that is process driven). Instead, ask, "What can you do to help us accomplish our mission?" (That is mission driven.)

  • Are you getting to know your volunteers as individuals? Are you listening to their input? Listen to their ideas of how they would accomplish the mission. It is not communication that the volunteer resists-it is communication that comes across as supervision (micro-management). Obviously you can't get to know all of your volunteers as individuals when you lead hundreds (or thousands) of volunteers, so the next question.

  • Are you recruiting and developing volunteer leaders of volunteers to lead your volunteers? This takes time and the danger is that we are tempted to place people in volunteer leadership positions too quickly. In this fast age, you know that I believe that this is an age that we need to be quick (remember twitch speed-Newsletter 95). But when it comes to picking leaders, it is better to test out our leadership team slowly than to put someone in leadership too fast.

  • Are you training your leaders of volunteers to empower volunteers? Are you training your volunteer leaders how to be like you-a leader of volunteers? Many know how to lead and have been leaders in their professional lives, but leading and empowering non-paid staff requires some unique skills. Use our articles to train them how to recruit and empower volunteers. The articles are FREE for you to copy, hand out and discuss.

  • Are you providing opportunities for volunteers to use their professional skills?

  • Are you keeping the standard high? The New Breed of Volunteers won't work alongside half-committed, unprofessional, "any old way will do" volunteers.

Check This Out: Who Takes the Fall If Your Education Day is a Bomb? You Do.
If you are planning an education day-make sure participants leave with a new vision, a few new take-away leadership skills, and inspiration for the sake of volunteerism. And make sure it is fun.

Do you leave an education day with a new vision, some take-away ideas and leadership skills, and inspiration for the sake of volunteerism? Or do you walk away with just a few CEU credits? As we learn the growing pool of knowledge it takes to be a director of volunteers, it ought to be far more than a boring academic class. It ought to be inspirational and fun as well as educational.

I recently had the opportunity to teach a leadership development education day with 62 directors of volunteers in the Southern California Association Directors of Volunteer Services (SCADVS). SCADVS is an affiliate of the American Hospital Volunteer Resource Professionals (AHVRP).

As we spent the day on the topic of empowering The New Breed of volunteer, three hot empowerment topics became significant issues for many of the attendees.

  1. How to empower the younger generation. Many hospital volunteers are in their 70s and 80s. But in the last few years there has been an influx of the young millennial generation. This generation arrives to volunteer on Monday and by Friday they want to be in charge. The questions kept coming about this generation such as: Do we empower them? How do we even communicate with them?

  2. How to change a traditional hospital volunteer culture that limits volunteers to standing at an information desk. One leader told me that she just got a call from a hospital manager asking, "Can you get a bunch of volunteers to stand at the doors and open them for our staff, patients and visitors?" Her volunteers weren't interested in standing at doors-they wanted to be involved in patient care. She asked me, "How can I empower volunteers if our management only expects volunteers to stand at doors?"

  3. How to deal with too many volunteers. Because of the current high unemployment, many hospital volunteers look at volunteering as an opportunity to get their foot in the door for a job in health care. The situation of too many volunteers raises several key leadership concerns such an increase in episodic volunteers--as soon as a volunteer gets a job they are gone. But another concern is the need to select and train volunteers to be effective leaders of other volunteers. In essence everyone in that room was a "leader of leaders." They were training their key volunteers how to mobilize volunteers. And that a significant task of leadership-empowering volunteer leaders to be leaders of volunteers. You cannot do it all yourself, but you can train your leaders to be empowered leaders.

As I flew back to my home that evening after the workshop, I thought of the advantages of being a part of a very specific education day.

First, I was totally energized by the passion of the attendees who kept saying throughout the day, "I love my job." When we are constantly hearing discouraging news all around us, it is refreshing to be with people who love their work. Even though they are facing challenges, they are so keyed up about what they are doing and are up to the task. It is difficult to seek solutions if you don't enjoy what you are doing and aren't passionate about your mission. But it is energizing to spend a day with people who are excited. An education day ought to feed your passion.

Second, I loved being with people who want to learn how to further develop their leadership skills-and the key word is "further." They took notes, listened and shared incredible insights and stories of what they are doing to bring value to a changing 21st century health care system with professional, caring volunteers. At the end of an education day you ought to take back to your organization several key leadership "take-aways."

Third, I kept hearing people use the word, "stealing." At first I thought I was with a bunch of thieves, and I wondered what they were talking about. I got my answer when I asked one person why she had driven over two hours to attend SCADVS. She responded to my question, "I am able to steal so many great ideas to help me face the specific issues that we face." The sharing (do I dare say stealing) of ideas is an important part of an education day.

Fourth, the education day was focused. Our focus was empowerment and how to empower the The New Breed of volunteer. All of the case studies, table discussions, video clips, and motivational presentations had one major big idea: "Unleashing the passion of a whole new breed of volunteers." I think a good test for an education day is what you are able to say when someone asks you, "What was the day about?" You ought to be able to sum it up with one "big idea" statement.

Our "take-aways" of the day included leadership insights, skill development exercises, an update on the trends in volunteerism, a few new relationships, and a lot of fun. What more can you ask than that?

It is not just about earning CEU credits. As the field of volunteerism broadens and expands, so does the growing pool of knowledge surrounding it. To stay effective and useful in an industry that is constantly dealing with changes in the economy, non-profit governance, and cultural demographics, it is more essential than ever that we stay current. But we ought to have fun in an interactive day that addresses the challenges that we are facing while we are learning.

If you are interested in an education day that focuses on recruiting and empowering The New Breed of volunteer, we would love to help you. As I told Avi E. Zaraya, Director, Volunteer & Chaplain Services Kaiser Permanente, Woodland Hills Medical Center (who was in charge of the education day), "The person who takes the fall if your education day bombs is you because you planned the day." If your topic for the day is The New Breed of volunteer, we can help you have a winner.

Contact us to book a workshop or key-note.

Volunteer Power Key-Notes, Workshops, Or An Education Day
The New Breed of Volunteer
A Volunteer Power Workshop
Recruiting and leading the 21st Century volunteers who want to do it their way

Workshop Content

The questions: Volunteerism is hot. From American Idol, Disneyland, Glee, Lady Gaga, President Obama to Wells Fargo, Intel and Wal-Mart, giving back is the rage.

  • How do we take advantage of this trend in our organization?
  • How do we mobilize the passion and power of volunteers in a culture that sometimes stifles passion and professionalism because management only allows volunteers to stuff envelops?
The answer: A 21st Century leadership strategy. We need to know how to impact our volunteer culture so that we can recruit and empower a whole new breed of volunteers.

The 21st century volunteer culture is very different because of tectonic shifts that have changed volunteer leadership. These shifts have impacted the volunteer organization; therefore, how we recruit and lead the New Breed of volunteer is a whole new game. The tectonic shifts include the following:

  • Twitch Speed - The core characteristic of Lady Gaga is speed. She is doing in 10 minutes what it took Madonna ten years to achieve. How nimble is your organization in responding to today's volunteers?
  • Generations - Gen Y and retiring boomers-the new frontier of volunteers
  • Technology - The addition of social networks as a leadership tool
  • Empowerment - The knowledge worker demands to be led - not managed
  • Slacktivism - Getting involved with the click of a mouse
  • Episodic Volunteering - Sign up for only short-term projects or only when unemployed
A LEADER OF VOLUNTEERS STRATEGY: In this workshop you will learn ...
  • How to manage change: How to interpret a changing culture
  • How to empower the volunteer without dropping the ball
  • How to coach your volunteers instead of manage them: The four stages of coaching
  • How to frame your recruiting message in order to transition slactivists and episodic volunteers into valuable non-paid staff
Contact us to book a workshop or key-note.

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