5 Tips for Managing Volunteers

Project managers in non-profit organizations, as well as those working on charitable endeavors and personal projects, often coordinate folks who are donating their time. But wrangling volunteers isn’t the same as managing employees—how do you tweak your project management strategies to achieve success with volunteers?

Make communication a priority. Be sure that everyone on the team knows how to contact you and other members. Volunteers are more likely to bump your project down on the priority list when things get busy, so it’s critical to provide them with a quick way to communicate any change in their availability.

Maintain comprehensive task lists and schedules. Depending on the project or organization, turnover among volunteers may be higher than is typical with employees. Shifting responsibilities between members will probably need to happen more often, and detailed project plans will help keep the project moving forward without interruption.

Reassess your personnel needs. With all the other things your volunteers are juggling, it’s prudent to assign more people to a task than usual. This conflicts with the typical corporate scenario, where staffing is lean and team members are expected to carefully manage their time and workloads. Think tomorrow’s envelope-stuffing event needs two people? Bump the team to three and you’ll be in a better position to absorb any last-minute problems or absences.

Consider the expertise available. Remember that volunteers are usually proficient at the tasks they’ve offered to do, but it’s likely that they aren’t experts. Be flexible in setting goals and measuring results, and look for signs that a task requires someone with true expertise.

Reward freely. Volunteers don’t receive traditional compensation for their hard work, so hand out as many perks as you can and express your appreciation for their efforts often. Folks who help out regularly should get special recognition.

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