Reflecting on the Work of Volunteer Managers

As I prepare a presentation on training staff to work with volunteers I am once again struck by the depth and breadth of skills required of volunteer managers in the execution of their responsibilities. Most volunteer managers work with limited resources to recruit, screen, train, integrate, supervise, and retain talented people with the goal of enhancing their organization’s capacity to meet its mission, serve its client base, and impact its community. In 2012 we saw the release of the National Occupational Standard for Managers of Volunteer Resources by the HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector. It captured the work of Managers of Volunteer Resources in 9 tasks:

Develop volunteer services

Promote volunteer services

Conduct volunteer recruitment

Provide volunteer orientation

Maintain volunteer records

Perform administration tasks

Manage volunteer performance

Recognize volunteer contribution

Engage in professional development

Within each of the categories are over 400 sub-tasks. The average for an occupation in Canada is just over 125.

 The irony, and the crux of one of my personal pet peeves, is that many volunteer managers “end up” in their positions with little or no training themselves. They are funneled into the position; drift into; are attracted to; or inherit the role along with one that they have some expertise or background in – fundraising, public relations, community development. Most of them adapt, seek out expertise and support, and go on to serve their organizations well. Of these the vast majority will tell you they feel they never quite fulfill their role in the way they would ideally like to. They would like more time, more money, and someone with organizational and administrative skills dedicated to providing support to their department.

Our sister profession, Human Resources, has evolved into multiple roles providing specialized support for the creation and functioning of infrastructures and practices that assure best possible management of an organization’s human capital. These include:

 Talent Director

 HR Consultant

Diversity and Inclusion Manager

Corporate Communications

Organizational Development Professional


Training Manager

Labor Relations

Health and Safety

Staffing and Recruitment

HR Generalist

Compensation Professional

This evolution is a reflection of the dynamic and multi-dimensional roles the management of talent requires. Human Resources Generalists and Volunteer Managers who work in small or under-resourced organizations face the daunting challenge of attempting to fulfill these functions alone or with limited support .They are often executing literally hundreds of tasks across a broad range of functions.

Volunteer management is fortunate to have dynamic generous thought leaders like

Betty Stallings


Susan J Ellis of  Energize

, Marilyn MacKenzie, Rita Cooper; national organizations like



Volunteer Canada

; provincial organizations like


; and local organizations like


and P

illar Nonprofit Network

(to name a few)  to provide context, information, tools and support to those making their way through the never ending challenges in managing volunteers today.

Volunteer Managers are amazing people. They care. They dedicate themselves to doing their jobs to the absolute best of their abilities. They play key roles in mobilizing literally hundreds of other caring and dedicated people. They need and deserve our support, and the support of everyone from the national government, who set the tone for the country’s attitude, acknowledgement and support of Volunteer Managers; to their provincial and municipal counterparts; foundations and funders; and organizational decision makers such as Board Directors.

Tomorrow I return to refining my presentation for the London and Area Association for Volunteer Administration.  I am introducing them to the great work of Betty Stallings on

Training Staff to Work with Volunteers

. Betty selflessly shared her program with delegates to the PAVRO annual conference several years ago because of her passionate belief that providing training to staff will provide them with knowledge and tools essential to their roles as the day to day trainers and supervisors of volunteers. This will in turn enhance all personnel in their ability to work together, meet the mission, serve their clients, and impact their communities.