The Multi-Talented, Multi-Tasked Volunteer Manager

March 28, 2012

So I’m going to write a blog, I’ve never written for a blog before, but this sounds kind of fun.  I get to pick my topic, the only real requirement is that the topic should be something that volunteer managers are interested in.  This shouldn’t be hard, I’m a volunteer manager!  So, what am I interested in?

I suppose that really depends upon when I ask myself this question.  If I ask myself this question in the morning, I might want to talk a little bit about how to organize my e-mail and how to learn to say no to some of the people that ask me to meet with them.  You see, the first thing that I do when I get to my desk in the morning is look at my e-mail and check my calendar.  Often times there are multiple meetings and multiple requests from staff asking for a volunteer.  Occasionally an e-mail from a volunteer with a time stamp of 5:55 the previous evening saying that he/she has a bad cold and can’t make it for their 6:00 activity, sorry for the late notice!!

It’s about this time of the day that my interest will change, volunteers start arriving.  The majority of volunteers that come into the volunteer lounge at Lyngblomsten like to chat, and my desk is strategically placed so that they can make a bee line right to me and chat with me.  I might hear how the weather is from one, a funny quip fromanother and how many different kinds of cookies the grandkids ate last time they were over to visit all in the course of 15 minutes.  But I’m still working on getting through the e-mails and, I forgot, there are a few voice mails that need to be listened to.  Just how do I get through all of this and remember from week to week about the wonderful volunteers?

Again, my interests change, time for a meeting!  Thankfully I prepared yesterday for the meetings today, so I grab the appropriate folder and head down the hall. I need to read a blog about how to organize my folders so I can find what I’m looking for!  What is the key for keeping a meeting on task and on the proper topic?  Agendas of course!  Being a very organized person, I like agendas.  If only all meetings had agendas. . .

Back to the office to take the notes from the meeting I was just in, entering  the next meeting date and time on my calendar.  If I left the meeting with action items, get them on my task list.  I guess now my interest is in recruitment.  The beauty shop needs a few volunteer subs for transport next week, one of the apartment buildings is looking for a popcorn delivery person on the last Thursday of every month and the one of the volunteer 500 dealers is still out with a broken wrist.  Thank goodness we have Volgistics and I can check my sets of volunteers that like to play cards, transport residents and deliver popcorn.   Wait, we don’t have a set for popcorn delivery, who can I call for that?!  Oh, one of the volunteers in the lounge tells me that there is no Diet Pepsi in the refrigerator; I’ll get right on that!!

A few phone calls and an  e-mail blast later I’m switching interests and talking with a staff person about a few new internship positions she’s wondering if we can fill.  Well, OF COURSE we can get those filled!  Let s schedule a time to sit down and outline what it is the intern will do, who will supervise, the amount of time we want the intern to spend with us, etc.  Since this department has never had an intern, I offer to write up a preliminary position description and send it prior to our meeting.  If the supervisor can look it over before we meet, we can make revisions to it during the meeting and get it posted as quickly as possible.

Whew, I made it to lunch time!  I think that in an average morning there are a few things that interest me, and probably many of my fellow volunteer managers.  Hopefully through this blog we can have a little fun, learn a little and be a little inspired.  Each month I’ll pick an “interest item” from my brainstorm blog and blog about it.  If you’d like to throw a topic into my flurry of ideas, let me know and I’ll be sure to add it to the “interests.”  If you have any advice for me, and other volunteer managers, please comment, we are all in this together!

Shelli Beck

Volunteer Coordinator


Healthcare, housing and community services for older adults


Adventures in (Almost) Volunteering

December 19, 2011

It has been about a month and a half since my last post, and I am very nearly volunteering somewhere!  Sort of.

Following the near success that turned into an unreturned email, I again spent a fair amount of time on a volunteer application for a nature center near my home.  The application called for three references, something I had not expected but something we do at my organization, and made sense for volunteers interacting with the public and specifically with children.  It also indicated a potentially well-organized system, which was sort of refreshing.  However, after seeing the number of references needed, I felt momentary panic – what was I getting myself into?!  Something that required THREE references and SEVERAL short answers to even apply must be a HUGE commitment!  But I forged ahead, determined this time to actually communicate with someone at the very least.

I filled out the application, stating that I’d be interested in agricultural opportunities and potentially acting as a naturalist, and submitted it.  I received a response the very next day!  The response email asked to clarify some of my experience and informed me of possible special events volunteer opportunities.  If you recall, I did not apply for special events opportunities.  And while I realize of course that it was practically winter, I thought there may be greenhouse or winter naturalist positions available for the season, and was hoping to at least hear about some opportunities.  I responded to the email restating my interests and giving more detail on my experiences, hoping that more information and a clear interest on my end would be to my benefit.  After sending this email, I received no response!

For five days that is, until I emailed again to check in about possible opportunities.  After sending my check-in email I received a response just a few hours later asking if I would be able to come in to have an informal interview, talk about my interests and experiences, and learn about the opportunities available.  After this meeting my information would be distributed to the appropriate staff members and I would hopefully have some sort of position.

The meeting went quite well – I felt as though the woman I met with was interested in using my skills and experiences as well as finding a place the organization could use me effectively.  She even confessed her not-always-prompt email correspondence!  It was very refreshing to speak with an actual human instead of a listserv, and I forgave the few miscommunications we had previously.

During the meeting we discussed how opportunities would pick up after the first of the year, which was fine with me given how busy I was feeling at the time.  I was anticipating checking in early January and was pleasantly surprised to receive an email update at the beginning of this month detailing how my information had been passed along and staff from two departments would be contacting me.  Then later that day one of them actually did!  I was quite pleased with how things were going, and wasn’t even phased when I sent off a quick reminder email to the other staff member to check in (which I got a response to within hours).

All things considered, this attempt was a success, and my more forgiving attitude towards communication definitely helped.  However, when it came to naturalist training, all of the opportunities were during the work week.  As someone who works on the weekend to be available to volunteers, I was a little disappointed that training wasn’t on a Saturday morning, for example.  Different from my program however, there were individual trainings for each naturalist class, which were scheduled before or after actual classes so new naturalists could observe the classes.  After explaining that I couldn’t attend any of the trainings save for one in late winter, the lead educator offered to look at the schedule with me to see which classes I could observe on days I was available so I would be able to begin teaching as early as possible.

My experience with this non-profit has been infinitely better than those I’ve had with the others I’ve mentioned, and that seems to be due to several factors.  I was definitely more persistent about my skills and experiences and how I’d like to use them, which proved successful, and had a more personal interest in the organization.  After making a strong connection, the individuals at the organization were really what drove the rest of the process.  Their genuine interest and continued contact made me feel as though they actually wanted me to volunteer, something I certainly didn’t feel from the other organizations.  The previous organizations had information for potential volunteers, but didn’t seem to actively court them.  I’d like to believe they were interested in cultivating volunteers, but the manner in which our interactions were handled made it seem as though they felt they didn’t need to put forth effort to garner new volunteers, but that volunteers would naturally be drawn to them and would be happy with wherever they were placed.

The more personal approach of this most recent organization seems to be less prevalent in the broader world of volunteer management.  Even large organizations can cultivate this kind of relationship if they focus their energy on utilizing the skills and interests of their volunteers.  Of course, this is only possible if those skills and interests can be used at the organization.  The balance of organization need and volunteer interest is essential – I would not have been completely happy had I accepted the offer of special events volunteer, and so I continued to investigate the opportunities.  It’s logical for organizations to offer what they have available, but consideration of the volunteers abilities should obviously be taken into account.  Having skilled AND satisfied volunteers will result in a more productive, successful organization.

Kelsea Dombrovski

Neighborhood Resource Coordinator

Minnesota Children’s Museum

Communication with Teen Volunteers

October 26, 2011

Communication can be a major challenge for Volunteer Administrators. In my role, I coordinate the Junior Volunteer program for students age 14-18. I have found that communicating information to these volunteers in a timely manner can be difficult. While bulletin boards are great and newsletters are invaluable, I often need to send notice of last minute issues and updates to this group of volunteers.

Traditionally, I’ve relied on phone calls and emails to reach our Junior Volunteers. However, it’s tough to catch them on their cell phones during the school day, and according to ComScore’s 2010 Digital Year in Review, email use among 12-17 year olds dropped 59% in 2010 (  So, I set out to figure out a way to text the JVs.

Prior to starting my research, I knew that I didn’t want to use my own cell phone. I also knew that I wanted the students to “opt in” to receive texts. I searched online and found a few suggestions on how to send text messages to large groups of people. Each method had positive and negative features. The most popular suggestion I found, was to set up a Google Voice number and text from that number. The downside to this option is that you must constantly update an excel spreadsheet with volunteer phone numbers and cell carriers. Also, through Google Voice, you can only send a text to 5 recipients at a time and there is a limit to the total number of texts you can send out. This could prove to be an issue if I were trying to reach the large group of JVs we have in the summer months.

The simplest suggestion, and the one I went with in the end, was to set up a Twitter account and text through Twitter. Twitter accounts are free, and the tweets that I send out appear in the JV’s text in-box as regular text messages. Once my Twitter account was set up, I advertised to the Junior Volunteers that they could sign up to receive text messages. To receive text messages, they simply text the words “follow USERNAME” to 40404. The downside to this method is that I have no way of knowing who has decided to receive texts and who has declined. However, I know that it is working because just last weekend I sent out a text saying, “we need subs for Saturday morning,” and two JVs picked up shifts!


For more information see the twitter blog at


Amy Lobitz

Volunteer Coordinator

Fairview Southdale Hospital

My MAVA Conference Experience

June 7, 2011

My career in the Volunteer Management field began 4 years and 1 month ago. My lovely supervisor at Metro Meals on Wheels, knowing I was new to the field, signed me up for the 2007 MAVA conference and I was so excited to have a 3-day conference to train me during my 3rd week on the job. From the conference I got my VRL certificate, learned best practices, talked to veteran volunteer management professionals, and learned to advocate for our profession. It was incredibly overwhelming but looking back, I’m so thankful for the training that my 3 person workplace could not provide.

Skip ahead to 2011, four years since my last MAVA conference (I missed 2009 due to lack of funding and organizational support for professional development). Not only have I grown and excelled in my field, but everyone else has too! I remembered feeling so young the first time around; so green. This time I felt poised for critical assessment of my program and for reflection of our profession. Although attendees seem both younger and older this time, the high level of enthusiasm and large number of personable and helpful colleagues abound everywhere just like my first one

The Science Museum volunteer program is so developed I was not sure how much I could take back from the conference that we weren’t already doing. I found out my confidence in our program is well founded but there is always something to learn and improve. Here are my 5 take-aways/action items from the conference, I hope if you attended your trip to St. Cloud was as fruitful as mine.

Take-aways/Action Items from 2011 MAVA Conferenc

  1. Create an online orientation module to use for new volunteers that cannot attend the in person version and for those that join the program at a time not close to a scheduled orientation. Use technology in the in-person orientation to make it more engaging.
  2. Set a professional development goal for myself that I can achieve by the next MAVA conference: become more involved in MAVA either through joining another committee or presenting at the next MAVA conference.
  3. Using innovative technology tools and strategic business practices are important to having a forward moving and successful program. But having these tools and processes are a means, not the end goal. The end goal is having happy and successful volunteers you get to interact with personally and efficiently.
  4. People communicate in many different ways. Don’t assume they come from the same place, want the same end goal or are thinking the same thing as me. Take time to understand each person I interact with and work with them in a way that makes sense for me and them.
  5. When working to create a partnership with another department, work laterally with someone who has approximately the same title as me who can get buy in from their supervisor and team. If someone is hard to partner with find another way.

Did you attend but feel like you did not walk away with much? Here are my top 10 tips to attending the next conference or Professional Development workshop:

Tips for Conference/Workshop Going:

  1. Research the topic/s ahead of time – simply Google it, ask colleagues or MAVA staff if they can recommend readings about it, or contact the presenter to see what resources they can recommend.
  2. Print materials if available ahead of time for the workshops might be interested in to help you go to the ones most relevant to you and your program.
  3. Write down 10 questions you want answered by the end of the conference and keep this list with you at all times.
  4. Take notes and label your notes so when you bring them back to your office you can file them away easily in a useful way.
  5. Use time before and after keynote speeches, meals and workshops to talk to the people next to you and exchange business cards. Write notes about how you met the person and how you could partner on the back to remind you once you are back at work.
  6. Volunteer at the event or let the planning committee you would like to help with the event.
  7. If there are networking opportunities, go to them. Yes sometimes they are awkward, and I know you are tired from going to all the workshops, but this is how you will meet your future collaborators, friends and even future co-workers.
  8. After returning from the event, print materials from the workshops that you didn’t attend in case you could use them in the future and file them away with labels so they are easy to find later.
  9. Make a list of take-aways and action items for when you return to the office and take a little time to figure out next steps so you can use them.
  10. Set up a meeting with your supervisor to discuss what you learned and why it was important for your organization that you went to the conference.

Molly Kennedy Lageson

Volunteer Resources Specialist, Science Museum of Minnesota


How to attend a conference:

Why should you attend a conference:

Tips for 1st time conference goers:

From Printing Press to WordPress: Sharing Volunteer News Through Blogging

April 28, 2011

Providing relevant news and timely updates to volunteers is a huge component of our work as volunteer coordinators.  Up until 2010, our Volunteer Services department at Children’s Hospitals & Clinics of Minnesota shared this news in a quarterly print newsletter, “The Volunteer Star.”

As our department editor, my feelings about pulling together each issue were akin to watching a fifteen-inning baseball game:  I enjoyed parts of it, but overall, felt as though the entire thing took far too long.  In order to produce three “Star” issues in a calendar year, I collected submissions in April, August, & November. This system worked well in terms of advance planning (and allowing enough time between issues to fill up each page), but was problematic for events that occurred immediately after these publication deadlines.  For example, if we published a newsletter in the last week of April and held our annual scholarship dinner during the first week of May, this scholarship news wouldn’t be published until nearly three months later.

After collecting the content (articles, photos, statistics, etc.) for each issue, I submitted this information to our communications department, at which time a graphic designer formatted our issue and prepared it for printing.  We then shipped the proofs to a printing company in order to produce approximately 1800 paper “Stars.”

From beginning to end, the process took a great deal of time, money, and energy—and at the end of the day, we weren’t even sure how often people were reading the newsletter that we’d taken such great care to produce.  Our department decided that it was time for a change—and this change came in the form of transitioning the “Volunteer Star” newsletter to a WordPress blog, now called the “Red Vest Review.”

Our department has experienced the following benefits by transitioning from a newsletter to a blog:

1.  Cost Savings

            By utilizing an online blog, rather than a newsletter, our department has been able to save the hospital over $4,000 in annual producing and printing costs.  We are able to produce this blog 100% “in-house,” with no outside contracts for editing, printing, or graphic design.  Setting up a blog on WordPress (or a similar site, such as Blogger) is incredibly user-friendly, and entirely free of charge.

2.  Going Green!

In this age of sustainability and environmental awareness, our department increasingly felt as though we could not justify producing 1800 12-page newsletters, three times a year.  We transitioned into the blog initially by sending the “Star” out as an electronic newsletter; however, the 12-page, picture-filled document proved to be too large of a file for many computers to download.  Moving to a blog was a perfect solution:  we saved paper AND cut down on filling volunteers’ inboxes.

3.  Relevant, Accessible Communication Within Our Primary Demographic

Here at Children’s Hospitals & Clinics of Minnesota, two-thirds of our volunteers are 25 and under, ten percent are under 17, and our average volunteer age is 29.  The majority of our volunteers at Children’s are students (or adults on the go!), and we’ve discovered that it’s much easier for them to visit a blog than it is to keep up with sending paper newsletters to constantly-changing addresses/campus mailboxes.

4.  Increased Ability to Communicate News in a Timely Fashion

Perhaps the best part of the “Red Vest Review” is that we are now easily able to communicate news & updates to volunteers in “real time.”  With this blog, we are immediately able to post pictures that we take, or write news updates within minutes.  We can easily print out blog entries for volunteers to take home, and, in fact, this has been a wonderful way to connect with volunteers of all ages.  We have an eighty-two-year-old volunteer who has been at Children’s for thirty-three years.  We highlighted her on our blog for Volunteer Recognition Week and printed out several copies of the article for her to mail to her family.  She was also able to share the web address with her children and grandchildren, which was an awesome way for the entire family to see her profile almost immediately after it was posted.  Our volunteers have greatly benefited from being able to view volunteer news and updates right away, without a several-month lag in production from newsletter to newsletter.  The entire process is efficient & easy.

I invite you to check out the Children’s Volunteer Services blog at to view some of our recent updates!  Also, if you’re thinking of developing a blog for your own Volunteer Services department, please also feel free to contact me via the e-mail address…I’d love to chat further with you!

Happy blogging!

-Jenna Barke, Volunteer Coordinator, Children’s Hospitals & Clinics of Minnesota