Dec 02, 2010
By Elaina Zuker
Now that you have assembled your merry band of volunteers, how will you manage them? What techniques
will work – and which will be ignored? You may be an executive or manager in your day job, or a retired one, but the rules for running a successful volunteer organization are often completely different from one where the workers are paid.
New Rules for the 21st Century
The old days of “command and control” top-down management and leadership no longer exist. Most people, especially younger people now want shared leadership, a more influence-oriented style of communication, having a say in the process and a feeling of making a difference.
So, how can you make sure that you have all the right ingredients for an effective, efficient, motivated
team? Managing a group of volunteers, each with his/her own ideas, can feel like herding cats.
1. Have an Orientation Meeting for New Volunteers.
This is a great opportunity for you to impart some background and context for the new members, let them know the priorities and projects underway, as well as items successfully completed. Also, it’s important that new members know the process of how meetings are conducted; you probably use Robert’s Rules of Order. (as a “new member orientation” gift, give each one a copy.)
In addition to you doing some telling, one of the most important things you can do is listen. Ask the new members why they volunteered, what they want out of the experience, what they hope to accomplish and what other volunteer experience they’ve had.
In addition to the value of their answers to these questions, you’ll also learn (if you pay attention) a little about their personalities and how they’re likely to behave at group meetings. You might get an inkling of the “know-it-all”, the “cross-talker” or the silent type.
2.Set the Agenda and Ground Rules
At the first meeting of the whole group (with the new members in attendance) before getting down to the business of what’s next on the agenda, use some of the time to take the long view. Set the objectives and goals for a specific time period (usually it’s the year or term of a Board.) As much as possible, do this with the group, not for them. Ask members for their input, what they think are realistic goals for the group to achieve. You don’t have to necessarily adopt all of people’s suggestions, but it’s important that they feel heard.
Do this in writing; use a simple flip chart on an easel and Magic Markers and write down all the suggestions. Then, with the members’ agreement, whittle down the list to what will become the final Goals and Objectives. Keep this chart at future meetings so it’s background and reminds everyone
to stay on purpose. Also, elicit suggestions from the group as to how they think their performance should be evaluated. Then, once you all agree on those criteria, members have a guideline for their performance.
These should also be written down. Ask one of the members to rewrite these lists (the Objectives and the Criteria for Performance) after the meeting and then give copies to each member.
What all these processes have in common is that they involve the entire group, an important ingredient in getting volunteers to “buy in” to the group and its objectives.
3. Another technique is to offer training for volunteers. Of course you, along with other members, will have to determine what type of training is needed. It might be training in specific content areas, educating members about the laws and ordinances affecting the property. Maybe it’s an overview of the history of the complex, or aspects of its construction, grounds and residents. Or, you may want to train people in various skills – communication skills such as listening and speaking, group participation, etc. This could have great benefits – for the group’s smooth functioning and team cohesion, as well as providing personal growth and development for the individuals.
Next time we will talk about how to best motivate and reward your volunteers.
Elaina Zuker is the President of Elaina Zuker Associates in Delray Beach, Florida and Montreal, Canada. She has conducted numerous seminars for employees and managers at major corporations such as AT&T, IBM, American Express and MCI International, and is a frequent keynote speaker at conferences and industry events. She is the author of six books, on leadership, management and communication. Her best-selling book, “The Seven Secrets of Influence” (McGraw-Hill), the recent Main Selection for the Business Week Book Club, has been translated into four languages, and was recently published in India and Singapore. Ms. Zuker holds a B.A. in Psychology, an M.A. in Management/Organizational Development and is the 2004 recipient of the Alumni Achievement Award from New York Polytechnic University. She is also a former Director for her residential condominium association.