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Five Secrets to Effective Volunteer Leadership

From tackling the challenges of recruiting and retaining great volunteers, to developing and honing your strategy to reach your overall mission, this article provides insights into being all you can be as an effective leader and inspiring you colleagues to make the biggest difference.

Inspire them before you even meet them.

A compelling recruitment message can help build enthusiasm for your program, and open the door to your choice of volunteers. Think in terms of social media, whether or not you’re using that medium to post your message. Keep it short and simple, explaining how your program makes a positive impact on the community, and how you can join a team that’s already building momentum. You can also focus on the fringe benefits of volunteering, like meeting new people, gaining new skills and most importantly, having fun.

For more tips and tools on how to launch a new project or initiative, check out this DIY guide.

Think like a business. says that “for the organization and its volunteers to benefit the most from each other, volunteers should be managed as part of an overall, systematic program, somewhat similar to the systematic approach that should be used to managing employees.” Certainly there are differences between how employees and volunteers are managed, but the differences are probably much less than most people realize.

Know the risks.

When you create the good for others, you don’t necessarily absolve yourself of liability exposure. A law passed in 1997 significantly insulates volunteers from legal liability. But for directors and officers, your risk can be as high as if you were running a for-profit company. You can help your cause by making sure you take steps to minimize your liability, including acquiring Directors and Officers liability coverage (your insurance company can tell you what you need), and having a risk control plan. If you have drivers working for you, make sure they’re covered too.

Give them a choice.

They’re giving you and your community their time, with little expectation in return. In exchange, you can go the extra mile to ensure your volunteers have a schedule that accommodates their needs and allows them to enjoy their life while meeting their other obligations. Running a flexible program that gives volunteers opportunities to make their own schedules, and opens the door to different volunteer experiences within the same organization will not only help ensure your people are happy, word is also bound to get out that your operations is the pace to be.

Give a little respect.

In addition to highlighting the importance of recruitment, The Volunteer Center of Sonoma County’s “Three R’s to Volunteer Management” include retention and recognition. As their Volunteer Coordinator Handbook implies, getting volunteers in the door is one thing, but keeping them motivated and inspired requires truly understanding who they are, and finding opportunities that align with their goals. If they’re new to volunteering, they’ll need some mentoring, and an open-door policy that ensures they feel heard, and that you get the feedback you need. Volunteering is an often thankless job, so come up with a few creative ways to show your gratitude. A pizza party, reward program or even something as simple as a card on their birthday can make all the difference in the world to a hard-working volunteer.

Find leadership opportunities with keyword “coordinator.”

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