The Succession Plan: Transitioning Volunteer Coordinators

Today, you are the volunteer coordinator, but one day you won’t be anymore.

Let’s assume you love your job as a volunteer coordinator. You’ve worked hard to build trust with your volunteers, to gain respect from your leadership, and to find your perfect volunteer management systems and style. Even if you love it, there’s another thing we can assume here: one day, you won’t work here as the volunteer coordinator. 

Whether you move on to another organization or you are promoted to a new role within your current organization, eventually there is going to be a new volunteer coordinator running the show. Instead of staying in denial, prepare yourself for the possibility and begin establishing a succession plan for when that day comes. Sometimes you know the person next in line or sometimes you are long gone by the time they get started. Preparing ahead of time gives them the best shot at picking up where things left off, regardless of timing. 

Need to know 

With any position, there are core details that the next person will need to know to do the job. Make a list of all the key job responsibilities you fulfill. Then, if there are certain software systems or memberships that are included in those, be sure to include log-in information and pertinent details about how those programs are used. If anything has a standard procedure to follow or instructions that would be helpful to know, include these, too. While this document is often something created when you’re already in the transition process, it can be useful to have even now in case you’re out sick for a while and need someone to pick up the slack. Also, before a succession, this document of duties can be referred to during your annual review as you show your boss the responsibilities on your plate and how you manage them effectively. 

Things you’ve found 

As the volunteer coordinator, you know there are so many more intangible parts to the job that don’t get listed on a document of duties. You’ve likely learned certain routines or management styles that have proven useful over the years. Maybe you’ve learned which volunteers don’t work well together (but are still great volunteers separately) or which vendors have helped you out in a pinch. These are all great things to talk about with the next volunteer coordinator! That is, if they want to hear about it. Be prepared to share these things if you’re willing, but also realize that they might have their own style or plans for the future. If you have notes about some of these details, you can offer to pass them on, but if they decline or decide to do things differently, don’t be too discouraged. Of course you might think your way is best, but different people have different styles and the new person needs to have the freedom to make their own decisions. 

People to keep in the loop 

One of your primary roles as a volunteer coordinator is communicating with volunteers. So if you are leaving, be sure to let your volunteers know in the proper time. You may have to work with your boss or the up-and-coming volunteer coordinator to determine the best way and timing to tell volunteers, but don’t forget about them during the succession process. You may even make a list of who to tell in person, who to tell via email, and who tell by phone. This is another list that can help you now as you look to identify core volunteers and people who may be ready to volunteer more. 

Especially when it comes to your core volunteers, the way this succession is handled may make or break their continued commitment to the organization. Try to be as communicative and clear as possible, giving them the opportunity to ask you questions or even keep in contact with you in the future if appropriate. Within your communication, be sure to empower the next person in the role and guide volunteers in communication and confidence in the new person. Ultimately, you want volunteers to trust and respect the new volunteer coordinator as much as possible. Exhibiting this trust and respect yourself will make for a more effective transition. If you don’t yet know who will take your place, direct volunteers to whoever will be handling things in the interim. 

Succession planning can sound big or bad or scary sometimes. But remember, change can be a good thing if handled well. Starting to prepare for succession now, regardless of how far away that change may be will allow you to be as thorough as possible. At some point we all change jobs or advance our careers in a new direction, which can be really fun and exciting. But through those changes, how we manage the exit can sometimes most define our role and impact. So, do your best to hand off the baton as gracefully and respectfully as possible. 

Samantha Gratton

Samantha is a staff writer at VolunteerLocal. She has experience coordinating events and loves chocolate.