volunteer management professional development

How to Unlock Volunteer Management Professional Development

Guest Post by: Alana Knoppow, MSW, Volunteer Program Manager, Hospice of Michigan and Arbor Hospice

One of the Biggest Challenges for Leaders of Volunteers

One of the biggest challenges we face as nonprofit professionals is volunteer management professional development. We know there are resources available to us that we can’t get our hands on, because of a lack of funds.

Many organizations struggle to gain funding for essential supplies and positions needed to provide direct service to clients. So, things like professional development fall by the wayside. As annual budgets are discussed and debated, line items seem to fall into two categories: Must-Haves and the Nice-to-Haves.

Too often, volunteer management professional development is viewed by organizational leadership as a Nice-to-Have, and not a Must-Have. Without organizational support, leaders of volunteers must often fend for themselves. Yet, nonprofit salaries usually do not lend to spending hundreds of dollars on conferences, webinars, and professional association memberships. 

Making the Case for Volunteer Management Professional Development

Here is how I think about it. If you are a hospital administrator looking to hire a registered nurse, you will only be interviewing candidates who went to nursing school and passed their boards. If you are hiring a social worker, you are interviewing candidates with a master in social work and state licensure.

However, if you are hiring a Volunteer Management Professional (VMP) then you are interviewing candidates with a variety of career histories and educational backgrounds. They may or may not hold any relevant credentials or experience. In fact, many VPMs enter their Volunteer Management careers without any Volunteer Management experience at all, because the role is so often viewed as “entry level.”

And yet, for the nurse and social worker, annual continuing education credits are required to maintain their licenses. For the VMP, continuing education is not required.

So, how can organizational leaders be confident their VMPs are knowledgeable and current on effective, evidence-based practices within the field of Volunteer Management? This position requires its workers to have a broad spectrum of skills and abilities and suffers so much turnover. On what laurels are CEOs, executive directors, and nonprofit boards resting to say, “My VMP doesn’t need any more education. Her/his lack of specialized degree or licensure is good enough for me?”

No Such Thing as Volunteer Management School

Once again: Your nurse went to nursing school to become a nurse. Your social worker went to social work school to become a social worker. Your VMP did not go to Volunteer Management school to become a volunteer management. Why not? Because no such school exists.

While there are various volunteer management certificates, certifications, and courses available, you will not interview any VMP candidates that graduated from Volunteer Management School with a bachelors or a master’s degree in Volunteer Management.

If you are not alarmed by this, then you should be, as VMPs are typically responsible for the supervision of hundreds, if not thousands of individuals tasked with meeting your organization’s mission, and being ambassadors for your organization in the community, to clients, donors, and everyone they meet.

Your volunteer management professional is a leader. The repercussions of their leadership, positive or negative, should not be left to chance.

You may now be wondering, so if there is no formal degree program for VMPs, where are they receiving their professional education, if anywhere? The answer is this: On the job. On the job, in real-time, through trial and error in real life circumstances as they arise. While this is of course a method of learning in all professions, in few other knowledge-based roles is it the only learning method.

You wouldn’t let your nurse’s only professional education with patients occur in this way. So, why would you allow your VMP, who influences hundreds, if not thousands of organizational brand ambassadors to?

VolunteerPro is The Good News for Nonprofit Professionals

WELL, I HAVE SOME GREAT NEWS FOR YOU. There are other options available, and they are called “professional development.” Naturally, you are inclined to pursue the lowest cost or preferably, no cost educational options when you hear this term. But as is true in so many areas of life, you get what you pay for.

Free education in the form of webinars, blogs, and e-newsletters is widely available to VMPs from across the internet. Can these sources be trusted? It is impossible to know as no degree program or formal credentialing requirement exists. How often are they practical, relevant, and turn-key – aka, ready for implementation? Having explored many of them over the years and across nonprofit industries I can tell you this: not many.

WAIT, THAT WASN’T GREAT NEWS AT ALL. You’re right. Sorry about that.

Here is the part that is great news: there actually, finally, is a volunteer management professional development resource available for volunteer managers that is evidence-based, thoroughly researched, and developed by an experienced professional with vast and relevant experience in the world of volunteer management. It is called VolunteerPro, created by Tobi Johnson.

VolunteerPro offers webinars that are not peddling common sense in the guise of new revelations. You will not find opinion-based information only, but rather, information based on actual-real-life science. It is developed by an actual expert whose methods have withstood the test of time, and are the result of decades of trial and error. Tobi has done the work for us, so your volunteer management professional doesn’t have to attempt to recreate the wheel.

Don’t Leave Your Nonprofit’s Wellbeing Up to Chance

Again, your VMP is a leader within your organization, whose influence ripples immeasurably, outside of your organization.

VolunteerPro was a long time coming in the field of Volunteer Management, and thank goodness for all of us now, that it exists. With your VMP touching the lives of so many individuals who interact with your organization, saying no to volunteer management professional development leaves your reputation to chance. Anything other than a VolunteerPro membership is quite frankly, reckless.

I caution you not to leave your VMP to their own devices, floundering with no support when seeking to answer the difficult questions this profession so often presents. The support is out there, the expertise is out there, and you don’t have it. Tobi does. VolunteerPro does. So come grab it.


About the Author: Alana is a VolunteerPro founding member. She works as the Volunteer Program Manager for Hospice of Michigan and Arbor Hospice and is annually involved with over 500 volunteers. She is passionate about hospice care, volunteers, and her one-eyed pug, Sammi.