Chapter 1: Volunteer Coordination

Do you have what it takes to lead your organization in volunteer coordination? What qualities do you think are most admired in leaders? People think leaders need to be strong, determined, results-oriented, and have most of the answers, but in fact, volunteer coordination involves team-oriented planning, having an open mind, and being a trustworthy partner.

Make no mistake — effective volunteer coordination requires strong leadership skills. Some would argue that leading volunteers takes more skill than leading paid staff because volunteers can “vote with their feet” and leave at any time due to poor management.

Research conducted by leadership experts Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, has shown there are four admired qualities in leaders people are willing to follow.

volunteer coordination

In this chapter we’ll delve further into what makes for successful volunteer coordination including:

  • How you can explore and evaluate your own competencies as a volunteer coordinator
  • What should be included in a volunteer coordinator’s job description, salary trends, and why it’s important to include volunteer coordination activities in other employees’ job descriptions within the organization
  • How volunteer retention plays a major role in volunteer coordination
  • And, what actually drives people toward making the plunge to volunteer so you can plan the best strategy.

Let’s get to it!

Core Competencies for Volunteer Coordination

What is a Competency?

A competency is the ability to apply a set of related knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal attitudes to successfully perform functions or tasks in a defined work setting. Competencies are important for defining a profession and are helpful in determining a baseline set of actions needed for success.

What is a Competency Model?

A competency model is a collection of competencies that define successful performance in a particular field of work. Moreover, it offers a comprehensive way to identify and address skill gaps that may hinder career advancement or success on the job.

Competency Model for Volunteer Administration

Our recommended Competency Model for Volunteer Administration is comprised of competency domains and tasks that are generally used to describe fully functional volunteer program management. They are aspirational in nature, representing an ideal mix of skills, knowledge, and abilities necessary to achieve a high performing program now and in the future.

The resulting model offers a comprehensive training plan for those new to the field of volunteer engagement. It also offers a roadmap forward for seasoned practitioners who want to build a professional development plan to help lead their organization boldly and confidently into the future. Use this model to help you assess your current skills and make a plan for improvement.

Coordinating volunteers successfully takes a broad range of leadership and management skills. The responsibility for managing your organization’s volunteer corps should not be left to chance and often requires dedicated personnel in order to reach full potential. If you are struggling to reach goals through part-time staff, or full-time staff who juggle a myriad of other agency priorities, you are more likely to fail.

Below is a list of core competencies for coordinating volunteers successfully and what they entail. These responsibilities might be split amongst staff, if that makes sense at your organization. For example, volunteer training might be conducted by your human resources department, while the communications department might be responsible for marketing open volunteer opportunities. If you organization is small, a dedicated volunteer coordinator may be your best bet. In very small or newly-formed nonprofits, the task of volunteer coordination may even fall upon volunteers themselves.

Successful volunteer engagement doesn’t happen by accident or merely hopes and dreams. It happens because the proper investments (human and otherwise) are made to ensure success. It’s important to cover all your bases.

volunteer coordination

Managing People

  • Human Resource Management – The ability to engage and support volunteers in a systematic and intentional manner to meet the organization’s strategic objectives.
  • Communications, Marketing, & Special Events – The ability to create, communicate, deliver, and exchange information that has value to a variety of internal and external stakeholders.
  • Training & Talent Development – The ability to build an organization’s capacity through developing volunteer skills and performance.
  • Community Partnership Development – The ability to develop mutually beneficial collaborations with organizations that have common interests and goals.

Managing Programs & Projects

  • Program Evaluation & Assessment – The ability to use data to conduct a systematic assessment of processes and outcomes in order to improve the program’s results.
  • Program Design & Risk Management – The ability to develop programs, initiatives, and processes that reduce harm and align with the organization’s mission and vision.
  • Data Management & Analysis – The ability to collect, analyze, and act upon reliable and valid data in order to engage in program monitoring and reporting to stakeholders.
  • Program/Project Planning & Management – The ability to define strategy, plan, organize, motivate, and control resources in order to achieve specific, time-limited goals.
  • Financial Management – The ability to generate, manage, and control cash and in-kind resources and be responsible stewards of public and private funds.

The Volunteer Coordinator Job Description

Now that you know the competencies expected of a volunteer coordinator, you can better define the role of coordinating volunteers by designing a refined job description.

Those who lead volunteers go by many job titles, with Coordinator appearing as the most common. According to our state-of-the-industry research in the 2019 Volunteer Management Progress Report, the top three words included in the job titles of survey respondents around the world were:

  • Coordinator 36.2%
  • Manager 27.1%
  • Director 16.0%

Volunteer Management Progress Report

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The main goal of a volunteer coordinator is to ensure that the organization has enough volunteers to fulfill your mission. To meet this goal, this staffer will need to perform a variety of duties that involve recruitment, screening, training, on-going supervision, program planning, and evaluation. Here are some of the duties that should be included in a Volunteer Coordinator Job Description:

  • Volunteer Recruitment- this can include designing job descriptions, posting job opportunities, creating flyers, attending recruitment events, screening and interviewing candidates, performing background checks if necessary.
  • Volunteer Supervision- this can include scheduling shifts, managing events, providing office hours, answering questions, being available, arranging team meetings, and handling any problems that may arise.
  • Volunteer Reporting- this can include monitoring the volunteer management database, writing sections of the annual report, collecting data from volunteers and/or staff, distributing information to the public.
  • Program Planning and Evaluation- this can include planning new volunteer programs or evaluating existing ones, collecting volunteer, staff, or customer feedback, and redesigning programs based on need and resource.

What’s the average salary of a Volunteer Coordinator?

According to our state-of-the-industry 2019 Volunteer Management Progress Report, volunteer manager salaries in the United States vary by type of organization, ranging from an average of $17,720 per year for church/congregation employees to an average of $53,036 for government workers. The average overall salary in the US was $45,383.

It appears that there is a correlation between average salary and job title. Directors earned the most at an average of $56,860 per year and Assistants the least at $30,331.

What is “Good” Volunteer Coordination? What the Research Says About Retention

While over a decade old, Mark Hagar and Jeffrey Brudney’s Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers (2004) remains one of the only, and the most comprehensive research studies of volunteer coordination practices and their impact on whether volunteers stay or leave.

They focused their attention on specific management practices of 3,000 charities across the United States including: supervision and communication with volunteers, liability coverage for volunteers, screening and matching volunteers to jobs, regular collection of information on volunteer involvement, written policies and job descriptions for volunteers, recognition activities, annual measurement of volunteer impact, training and professional development for volunteers, and training for paid staff in working with volunteers.

Of the nine practices, only regular supervision and communication with volunteers had been adopted to a large degree by a majority of charities. At the time, only one-third of charities had adopted the practice of publicly recognizing the work of volunteers to a large degree. Over 60 percent had adopted each of the practices to some degree, suggesting that these volunteer management methods were known, but not always fully implemented.

Perhaps surprising, only three management practices had a significant impact on volunteer retention:

  • Recognizing volunteers
  • Providing training and professional development for volunteers
  • Screening volunteers and matching them to organizational tasks

The remainder of practices had no, or a negative, effect on retention (for example, volunteer supervision was shown to negatively correlate with retention, perhaps pointing to the inclination to micro-manage volunteers). These researchers noted that those listed practices focus on enriching the volunteer experience. So, management activities that focus more on the needs of the organization (documentation of volunteer numbers and hours, etc.), are unrelated to retention of volunteers, even though they may help the organization in other ways.

“When you’re in the day-to-day grind, it just seems like it’s another step along the way. But I find joy in the actual process, the journey, the work. It’s not the end. It’s not the end event.”

– Cal Ripken, Jr.

Other factors that boost volunteer retention

So if volunteer retention is so important, how do you get the right volunteers in the first place? And what type of culture can a volunteer coordinator foster to inspire them stay? In short, the higher the level of volunteer satisfaction, trust they receive from your agency, their sense of belonging and their ability to feel empowered will all contribute to increased volunteer retention.

1. Volunteer Satisfaction

Satisfaction with a work task is dependent on three things:

  • Skill variety – Uses the different skills & talents of the volunteer
  • Task identity – Allows the volunteer to complete some tasks from beginning to end
  • Task significance – Volunteer believes the job has a substantial impact on others and the organization’s mission

Skill variety, task identity, and task significance will affect how meaningful the work will be to a volunteer.

What’s more, the level of their autonomy afforded by the role will affect whether or not volunteers will assume responsibility for outcomes of work. And, the quality of feedback you give will determine whether the volunteer understands the results of their work and where improvements might be needed. As a volunteer coordinator, the more you are able to fulfill these needs, the better they will feel about their work.

2. Volunteer Trust

Volunteers want to feel safe, valued, and trusted to take on their tasks successfully. Here are several things you can do to gain their trust:

  • Recognize Excellence Right after goal is met, from peers, unexpected/personal/public
  • Induce “Challenge Stress” Assign challenging, but doable projects to teams
  • Promote Autonomy Allow them to execute projects in their own way
  • Let Them Choose Allow volunteers to self-organize into teams
  • Be Transparent Share the agency’s goals/strategies/tactics openly
  • Build Relationships Build in social time & encourage friendships
  • Focus on the Whole Person Encourage professional & personal growth
  • Show Vulnerability As a leader, be open about the things you don’t know

3. Volunteer Belonging

Volunteers want to feel like they belong to a community. Everyone wants to feel included as part of the “in group.” When people feel excluded, or relegated to the “out group,” it can have disastrous consequences. It can:

  • Reduce cognitive functioning and performance
  • Increase self-defeating behavior
  • Make them less likely to focus on long-term behavior
  • Reduce pro-social behavior and teamwork
  • Make them less likely to volunteer and donate

Inclusion is an essential approach when it comes to engaging volunteers and profiting teamwork. Help volunteers see how they are part of the same “in group,” who believe in your cause and can make a difference, regardless of other differences (race, ethnicity, language, education, roles, points of view, past experience, departments, etc.). Make sure everyone – newbie and seasoned volunteer alike – understands how important it is to welcome new volunteers to the family and take proactive steps to eliminate territorialism, cliques, and silos.

4. Volunteer Empowerment

Volunteer empowerment is a function of the psychological experience of power, the effect of sharing valued goals, perceived control over the work environment, and perceptions of self-efficacy or competence. When experiences are more positive, volunteers feel a greater sense of empowerment. As a volunteer coordinator, you can (and should) facilitate the feelings of empowerment, which are critical rewards for volunteers.

Volunteer Coordination Begins with YOU

Ready to begin your journey to exceptional volunteer coordination? You now have the tools to write a stellar Volunteer Coordinator Job Description. You understand what’s involved when assessing volunteer coordination competencies. You’ve been given data on how volunteer retention plays a major role in volunteer coordination. And, you know how to increase volunteer engagement to boost your program.

Remember, YOU are the conductor. Let’s get this train rolling!

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Job Description Template

If you’re wondering what to include in a job description for the person tasked with leading volunteers, or you want to update your current job description, start with our time-saving template. Use this template to tailor specific, mission-based volunteer position descriptions for volunteer coordinators, managers, or directors.

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