volunteer teamSkilled delegation of volunteer team duties is an art that many managers, even experienced ones, struggle with.  In the harried rush to meet deadlines, respond to email, return phone calls, and handle crises, we try to communicate the best we can, cross our fingers, and then rush off to the next thing.

But is this most effective tactic in the long run?  Probably not — not with our paid staff and certainly not with our volunteer team partners.

When working with volunteers, saving time isn’t the only issue at stake when poor delegation occurs.  Paid staff may be more resilient and able to accommodate a dysfunctional delegation style.  They are getting paid and have come to expect it in many workplaces.

Volunteers?  Not so much.

It doesn’t take to long for volunteers to become frustrated with the lack of information.  They may feel “dumped on” if they are assigned tasks they didn’t really agree to, or take more time than they have on hand to give.   They may become discouraged when they are asked to re-do a task multiple times because they weren’t given clear guidelines in the first place or the process for approval keeps changing on them.

Poor delegation hurts not only your productivity.  It also erodes your team morale and, ultimately your volunteer retention.

So, it bears taking a good, hard look at.

Certainly, some volunteers are able to “go with flow” more than others.  But, by improving your delegations skills you can meet everyone’s need to have clear information and a chance to make a big difference at your organization.

6 Steps to More Effective Delegation of Tasks to Your Volunteer Teams

Here are some concrete ways to improve your delegation.

1) Ask your team directly how you can do better — Different people need different information, in different ways.  So, the first step is knowing their preferences, so that you are sure to deliver information in a way that suits their needs.

2) Gather all the necessary info needed for the project BEFORE you assign it —  For example, if it’s a document, what are the graphic standards (i.e. font, layout, 508 compliance, etc.)?  What are your expectations around layout (page numbers, graphic design, etc.)  When is the interim draft due?  When is the final due?

3) Have a list of good examples to live up to, from the start — If there are other products or projects that have been successful, you need share them (or links to them) up front, before they get started; it will help folks visualize what the end result might look like.

4) Explain the concept and context around the project more fully — People need to know how the task fits into the larger picture.  Why is it important?  How does the product or project interface with others?  You  want your volunteer teams to know how each task makes a difference and adds to the whole.

5) Be clear about the review process from the beginning — Who will review the drafts, and how will it be decided when the final result has been achieved?  This isn’t always easy to do because some projects take more tinkering with than others.  But, if you can at least lay out a general process, it will help your team feel more in control, confident they are on track, and aware if they are not.

6) Explain how to get help, specifically — You might already encourage your team to contact me at any time if they have a question, but I think people really need something more concrete.  If you are a busy person, when can they count on my undivided attention, if they have a question?  Is it first thing in the day via email?  Is it during a 15 minute meeting they’ve requested through your calendar software?  Is it a verbal check in at the end of the day?  Consider what works best for both yourself and the other person, and then stick to it.

In the end, by improving your delegation with a little investment up front, everyone will save time in the long run.

If you’re willing to adjust your leadership style, everyone will reap rewards down the line.

And, you’ll become well-oiled machine you aspire to be.


Note: a version of his post originally appeared in Tobi’s Volunteer Management Blog, January 27, 2012.