The most important thing you can do for your volunteers is to communicate with them; the more pertinent information you share, the better your experience will be. Better information means less drama because people get uncomfortable when they don’t know what’s going on.

First, the more people who know that your crew is made up of volunteers, the better. You want to let as many people as possible know that you use volunteers, by talking about the program in newsletters, on the website, wherever.  Even though most people chose not to volunteer, everyone will have seen communications dedicated to the subject.

Second, if you’re communicating often and effectively, the volunteers know what they will find, and what they should do before they ever walk through the door. To the uninitiated, an event can seem like a mysterious society with arcane rules and impenetrable power structures. Open communication bares the mystery: what does a volunteer do? Let them know upfront that it’s okay if they don’t know much about the workings of the agency– that’s our job. They are there for specific jobs, something you have shown them how to do.

Any public enterprise–be it a business, a school, a place of worship –has proprietary information. There are things management knows that staff does not need to know, and there are things that staff needs to know that customers don’t need to know. But it’s important to make that distinction, and to let people know what they need to know. It’s also important not to assume that people know more than they do, and to identify information that will increase both their buy-in and their comfort level. If you want to have any sort of control over your program and volunteer effort, don’t control the information by withholding it– people will just make up shit if you do that (pardon me, it was really the best way to put it). Control the information by sharing it.

And just in case I haven’t said it enough: thank you volunteers. You make my job easy.

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