Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ten Tips on Managing Volunteers - from Hazon

This week I spoke with Judith Belasco the Director of Food Programs at Hazon, whom I met recently at a meeting for Covenant Foundation grantees. Hazon holds an annual food conference and bike ride that are entirely run by volunteers. I have always been eager to learn more about the wisdom of managing volunteers since a big part of what community of practice facilitators do is manage volunteers. Judith mentioned that the founder and Executive Director of Hazon, Nigel Savage, has a background in volunteer organizing that he learned from Limmud UK.

Below are a few key points that I learned from Judith.

  1. We work hard to help people feel that the more they take on the more they are influencing the outcomes. Volunteering is an opportunity for them to learn new things, build new relationships and be changed by the process.
  2. My approach is to understand ahead of time what the tasks are that need to be done and then invite volunteers in to help make things happen. That is in contrast to other approaches where you first ask a volunteer to engage with you and then figure out what they can do.
  3. We have a document that lists all the various roles that we are looking for. We first show them the various options before we invite them to participate in any particular role.
  4. It’s an ongoing job scouting for outstanding volunteers, when we hold a conference staff and current volunteers are told to "keep your eyes out for people who are amazing who should we have on the executive committee."
  5. You don’t know who will say yes unless you ask. On average half of people say no or cannot do the job as needed so you need to have a long list of possible volunteers.
  6. I ask people that I would like to work with. We will be spending a lot of time together so it’s great to enjoy the people you are working with.
  7. Volunteer positions come in many sizes: from the chair and members of the executive committee who have 2 meetings per month ,a mandatory planning retreat in CA and work an average of 1 to 5 hours a week, to people who volunteer to call members to find out if they would be willing to read the Torah for the event.
  8. Be clear about what you are asking from them, give people a clear sense of the time and financial commitments. Our volunteers are all also paying participants of the programs they plan. Be sure to raise the money issue even if they do not.
  9. Develop templates and timelines and re-use documents from previous years so you get smarter and more efficient every year.
  10. Staff works with volunteers to prepare agendas and organize monthly meetings, which is often a significant piece of work. If the meeting is well structured with clear next steps a lot of work will happen during the month.

Let us know what your tips are for managing volunteers! Do you think these tips all apply to your work managing volunteers in a community of practice? In what ways do they apply and in what ways do they not?