ACQUISITION AND UTILIZATION OF VOLUNTEERS
Norman M. Cary, Jr.
On almost any broad topic relevant to the missions and functions performed by the members of HNSA, there is a plethora of good information on the Internet. This essay is one of a series of short articles on various topics of interest to HNSA members based on this readily available resource. In each article, I will do a short expository essay briefly describing the topic under discussion, list some relevant sites, and provide some information on what is available on each site. This will hopefully give the reader a place to begin his or her search for enlightenment on a particular topic. Given the vast amount of information available on most of these topics on the web, these essays, of necessity, provide just a sample of what is available and are not comprehensive surveys of the resources out there. If you have any favorite web sites on any of these topics that are not included in the relevant essay, I would like to know about them. Please contact me at Normtuba@aol.com with the citation and a summary of the nature and value of the site and I will evaluate your input for possible inclusion in future revisions.
Without volunteers, it is safe to say that none of the HNSA ships would be able to function. From maintenance to curatorial to administrative work, volunteers provide vital assistance to the professional staffs of each of the historic ships. Indeed, there are some of the historic ships run almost entirely by volunteers. The vital importance of volunteers is a characteristic that the historic ships' community has in common with the rest of the non-profit world.
It is clear from the available literature, however, that management of volunteers is often not adequately addressed by many members of the non-profit community. There is the illusion on the part of some who ought to know better that volunteers are a "free resource", requiring little or no supervision or resources. Nothing could be further from the truth. As with most things in life, there are right ways to manage volunteers and there are wrong ways. Fortunately, there is a large quantity of information on how to properly perform that function available on the Internet. Cited below are a number of sites that are helpful in finding out how to recruit and manage volunteers:
http://www.nps.gov/safr/supportyourpark/volunteer.htm This list of volunteer opportunities at the San Francisco Maritime Historic Park, National Park Service, is an excellent example of how to advertise volunteer billets that need to be filled at your historic ship. The site is very clear as to what volunteer positions are available at the Park and what general responsibilities these jobs involve. Also included as part of the site are the volunteer application forms. This appears to be a model web site for recruiting volunteers.
Brig Niagara has a similar web site, although not as detailed. http://www.eriemaritimemuseum.org/flagship_niagara_league/volunteer/
The Urban Institute is a nonpartisan economic and social policy research organization. In June of 2004, they posted an article on their web site entitled Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers, by Mark A. Hager and Jeffrey L. Brundey. The executive summary of this report, provided in the web site, is as follows: "This report is the second in a series of briefs reporting on findings from a 2003 survey of volunteer management capacity among charities and congregations. The findings in this report are based on conversations with a systematic sample of charities about their practices, challenges, and aspirations for their volunteer programs. We focus on charities' adoption of nine recommended practices for volunteer management. Further, we explore the relationship between adoption of these practices, other organizational characteristics, and the retention of volunteers. The practices under study are 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. The findings provide new insight into volunteer management capacity and retention." It is a most helpful essay and definitely worth reading. Information about The Urban Institute and, in particular, this essay, can be found at:
Another document on volunteers The Urban Institute is Balancing Act: The Challenges and Benefits of Volunteers, by Mark A. Hager and Jeffrey A. Brudney. Information about this essay can be found at:
http://volunteer.ca/ At the 2001 International Conference on Volunteer Administration in Toronto, the Association for Volunteer Administration (AVA) convened an International Working Group on the profession with representatives from 12 countries, AVA and the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE). As a forum for global discussion about volunteer resources management and its future direction, the Group worked together for two days to produce a declaration on the profession of leading and managing volunteers. This lays out in some detail the responsibilities of volunteer managers.
http://volunteer.truist.com/ United Way of the Greater Seacoast (UWGS) is a local 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in New Hampshire whose mission is to rally resources to address the community's most pressing needs. UWGS is one of 1400 locally independent, self-governing United Way organizations in United States and is overseen by a Board of Directors. The referenced site, part of this organizations web page, encourages professionals in a variety of professions to become volunteer management consultants, providing assistance in doing strategic plans, facilitating board retreats, doing governance work and feasibility studies, and creating marketing plans, volunteer recruiting plans, fundraising plans, and business plans. Is there an organization like this one in your community? If so, get in touch with it.
http://www.serve.gov/ As a coordinating entity in the White House, USA Freedom Corps is charged with promoting a culture of service, citizenship, and responsibility in America. USA Freedom Corps promotes and expands volunteer service in America by supporting Federal service programs, serving as a resource for non-profits, recognizing volunteers, and helping to connect individuals with volunteer organizations in their communities. It is an excellent resource for information on all aspects of recruiting and utilization of volunteers.
http://www.serviceleader.org/ ServiceLeader.org, a project of the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs of the University of Texas at Austin, provides information on all aspects of volunteerism.
http://www.volunteertoday.com Volunteer Today is an electronic magazine on volunteerism. It has a great deal of very useful information on the management of volunteers.
http://www.npgoodpractice.org/Topics/Volunteer/Default.aspx This site is part of the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership, part of Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan. There is a portion of the web site's section, "Nonprofit Good Practice Guide" (worth looking at on other topics), about volunteer management.
http://www.1-800-volunteer.org/ 1-800-Volunteer.org connects people to volunteer opportunities in their community, helps them track their volunteer service, and sends them automatic e-mail notifications. This free service is a direct link to local opportunities selected by Volunteer Centers and sponsored by the Points of Light Foundation and the Volunteer Center National Network. See especially http://www.1-800-volunteer.org/1800Vol/VCGenericContentAction.do?title=learnMoreOrgs
http://www.dysonfoundation.org/ The Dyson Foundation is a private, family-directed grantmaking foundation established in 1957 and headquartered in Millbrook (Dutchess County), New York. This portion of their site has some excellent links to other resources on volunteer management.
The above is, of course, only a small portion of the information available on volunteers on the web. Most of these sites were found using the Google search engine, http://www.google.com/advanced_search, advanced search, with the exact phrase: Volunteer management; with all the words: non-profits.
I would like to make one personal note on this subject, based on a 29 year career as a museum curator for the US Army and US Navy. In my work, which was working with museums--in particular, with museum collections ensuring their proper care and accountability--I found that far too many museum operations rely way too much on volunteers to do their routine day-to-day business. Frequently, it is a fatally serious mistake. This is not because the volunteers do a bad job--the ones I had did excellent work. It is because they are volunteers. They don't have to do this to make a living, and if something else comes up that is more interesting or if they decide they don't want to do it any more, they can quit--right then and there. If an organization depends too much on volunteers to run things--ESPECIALLY if the organization runs only on volunteers--that organization is skating on thin ice and hazarding its future. Among other problems, an operation which depends overmuch on volunteers doesn't have much in the way of a capability to provide the necessary long-term care to the collections for which it is responsible. I learned this through hard, bitter experience by dealing with the mistakes of others. Volunteers are, by and large, a good thing. But the assumption that they can and will do it all has killed many an organization, especially non-profits.