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A New Year "Revolution" for Volunteer Programs
06 January 2005
by Nan Hawthorne

Volunteer programs are like individuals: they need a new starting point from time to time. It is an ancient tradition to make the start of the new year, whether in the Gregorian, Chinese, Jewish or other calendar, a time to make renewed efforts to a desired goal. Volunteer programs can take advantage of this useful if arbitrary date on the calendar to get their proverbial house in order too. We propose the lucky seven resolutions below as a shortcut but of course like your personal goals, setting goals only works if they really are relevant to you. 

Before we go on to list some resolutions for you, a word about resolutions and success. In her article "7 Ways to Make New Year Resolutions Work" Maria Gracia shares her sage advice:

It's nearly impossible to do everything you've always wanted to do in a short period of time. To be sure you don't forget about the goals you'd like to accomplish, write them all down on a Master Goals List. Then, each month throughout the year, focus on the one or two that are most important to you. You won't get overwhelmed and you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

Accomplish all these resolutions and you will look back on this year as the "revolutionary" year for the success of your program!

Resolution #1: Take a look at what volunteers do in your organization. Is the work they do clearly related to the mission? If not, it's time to overhaul what you are asking members of your community to do for you. List the goals your organization seeks to accomplish and brainstorm tasks that volunteers can do to make those goals happen. Be sure to look at Resolution #7 for one way to do this.

Resolution #2: Take a hard look at your program communications. Do you have a clear path for prospective and existing volunteers to get the answers, the tools and the support they need? How long does it take for them to get a response? If it is more than two working days, it's time to fix that. You cannot be "too busy" to take care of your volunteers.

Resolution #3: The best recognition is in-person, one on one and relevant. Get to know volunteers and what makes them feel effective. Start giving them feedback that actually means something. (Take CharityUniversity's upcoming class "Recognition That Counts" to get a good grounding on how to do this.)

Resolution #4: If you aren't already, get involved with your local directors of volunteers group. The mentoring you can receive and offer there is invaluable. To find out what is available, take a look at either Association for Volunteer Administration or Energize!.

Resolution #5: Get a better outlook on the capabilities of people with disabilities. Workplace studies show that this group excels at everything except getting hired: lower turnover, higher productivity, and even better education and skill levels. This goes for every type of disability so don't fall into the trap of thinking disability just means people who use wheelchairs or are developmentally delayed. You have what they need -- work experience. They are available. You can learn a lot about disabilities at eSight Careers Network and its articles about volunteering.

Resolution #6: Monitor how you talk about your program. You and your volunteer program are only as important to your organization as you communicate. Advocate for a job title for yourself that more accurately describes what you do. You no doubt do a lot more than just "coordinate" volunteers. Read about professionalism in volunteer management so you can talk about it with an air of authority. Get some knowledge under your belt including statistical information. Listen to development directors and volunteer managers. Talk and pay attention to the deficiencies revealed by what we ourselves say about our job and programs.

Resolution #7: All these make your head spin? Remember to work on one at a time. And here is the trick we promised. You don't have to do this alone! Have you ever thought of recruiting volunteers for an advisory committee on different aspects of volunteer management? They are the experts. Let them tell you what needs to happen. Then form committees to develop and even provide the improvements. We have the solution at our very fingertips.