3 Secrets to Volunteer Success
Greg Simpson is a social worker, writer, award-winning cat lover (according to Cat Fancy magazine) and the volunteers coordinator at Protectors Of Animals, Inc. in East Hartford, CT. And not only does Greg volunteer as the volunteers coordinator, but EVERYBODY at POA – all 250+ of them – is a volunteer! Together, they fulfill 300 different jobs at the organization, managing five locations and adopting some 600 cats and 60 dogs per year. Not bad, eh?
But wait, there’s more. They have virtually zero lack of follow-through from their volunteers AND they have a steady flow of more people wanting to volunteer – about 500 per year, in fact. And about 10 new applicants every week!
So what’s Protectors Of Animals’ secret? (Besides Greg, of course.) There are three, actually, which Greg shared at the New England Federation of Humane Societies annual conference last month.
Secret number one: Expedite the process. At POA, every single volunteer inquiry is responded to within 24 to 48 hours! Why? Because Greg has learned that when people are moved to want to help, the very best time to reinforce that is, well, right then and there. Every day you wait is a day that can start drawing your potential new volunteer’s time and attention away from you.
Secret number two: Institute a pyramid structure. Think small at the top, bigger in the middle, and really big at the bottom. The volunteer structure at POA has the Coordinator at the top. Then come Team Leads for the eight major functions in the organization – things like Foster Care, Daily Cleaning & Feeding, Adoptions, etc. Each of these functions ideally has TWO team leads so that there is always someone to manage the function while allowing for the leads to have back-up and time off. Each function then has a large number of “line” volunteers who fulfill the daily and weekly tasks. Everyone commits to at least two hours per week for at least six months, but most folks put in many more hours. The pyramid structure provides for good communications, specialization in the different areas of the operation and plenty of support flowing both up and down. After Greg interviews a potential volunteer, they meet with a team lead for another interview. If both parties remain interested, the volunteer then trains with the team lead and subsequently reports directly to that person. Eventually, that new volunteer may help with the training and support of new volunteers, and may ultimately apply to be a team lead themselves.
Finally, secret number three: Make it easy for volunteers to find you. POA uses every volunteer registry possible… all of the local organizations that provide community networking and resources to nonprofits as well as all of the online venues such as volunteermatch.org, from which Greg says they get a ton of volunteers. He also recommends using every communications tool at your disposal – your website, Facebook page, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. – and make the pitch for volunteers really apparent (and welcoming). POA also hosts a number of “social” events every year in order to put on a friendly face of the organization and provide the opportunity for meet-and-greets (of the two-legged variety).
While I don’t have the credentials in volunteering that Greg has, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say there is one more thing that’s essential to a successful volunteer program – which became really apparent in Greg’s workshop. Cat Fancy may have honored Greg as one of the “40 Ultimate Cat Lovers in the U.S.,” but it’s pretty clear he loves people, too. So here’s my additional two cents on this topic: put someone with a heart big enough for animals and people in charge of your volunteer program!
Protectors of Animals
Volunteers & Foster Care
“Wordless Wednesday: Volunteer Appreciation Week”
“Take Five Friday: Offsite Adoptions, What Volunteers Are Worth Per Hour and No New Car Smell”