For the Love of Snail Mail

Over the years, advances in technology have distanced many of us from regular engagement with the postal service. These days, you can email, text, call, or even video chat without delay. Although physical mail has seen a decline in day-to-day use, that doesn’t make is useless. There are certain situations in which snail mail provides benefits that internet-supported communication just can’t beat.

  • Accessibility: Not all volunteers have reliable access to phones or emails. Sending physical mail is one way to ensure your message reaches far and wide. Getting ready to announce a big event? Recruit even more volunteers with a mailed invitation!
  • Appreciation: As a volunteer coordinator, it is important that your volunteers know how sincerely you appreciate them. There is something special about receiving mail – don’t you think? In the age of convenience, a mailed card shows you put more time, care, and planning into your thank-you note. Or, perhaps you would like to send your volunteers thank-you gifts! Whether you are sending cards or swag, the postal service can help you show your gratitude.
  • Signatures, Documents & Payments: Usually, digital solutions will do the trick. (In case you’re wondering, VolunteerLocal supports digital signatures, document uploads, and payment processing!) However, some organizations and communities are still warming to the idea and prefer to rely on printed documents for their records. Others don’t have access to the printers and scanners needed to send/receive these items. At the end of the day, it’s nice to know you can always count on good ol’ mail as a backup plan.

As a tech company, we see technology as a tool to solve daily challenges – including, of course, the challenges of volunteer coordinating! However, we would be remiss to show some love for good old fashioned snail mail, when it has a number of unique benefits of its own.

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Volunteer Retention: How to Keep Your Volunteers Coming Back

A positive volunteering experience can lead to a life-long relationship with an organization. How can you make sure your superstar volunteers stay engaged, year after year?

Show Genuine Appreciation

Their work matters! Show you care.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. A short “thank you” email will let your volunteers know they are appreciated. It only takes a few minutes, and it is an easy way to acknowledge what their help means to you and your organization. (You might even try upping your show of gratitude with a handwritten note for volunteers who went above and beyond!)

Track Contributions

Volunteering for a few hours a month might not seem like much, but over the course of a year it really adds up. Show how much you value your volunteers’ time by tracking volunteer hours and celebrating grand totals at the end of the year. Speaking of…

Celebrate Together

After months of hard work, everyone needs to blow off some steam and reflect on new accomplishments. There are lots of ways to celebrate!

For example, consider hosting a party or gathering to let volunteers mingle and have a little fun. If you have an annual event for donors, consider inviting volunteers, too. They may not have contributed monetary donations, but they did donate their time.

Cultivate Community

Volunteers don’t only have a relationship with your organization; they often get to know other volunteers as well! Encourage a positive volunteering community by helping your volunteers get to know each other and, importantly, feel like they belong.

One way to do this is to come up with a fun name for your group of volunteers. Call them “Event Heros,” “Race Superstars,” “Triathlon Wizards,” or work out a fun pun based on your organization’s name. Anything you do to create a team atmosphere will strengthen the relationships among your volunteers and keep them eager to return.

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Six Fresh Ways to Jumpstart Volunteer Recruitment

Volunteer recruitment—it’s just one of those things that is never fully crossed off the list, right? When you’ve fulfilled your volunteer need for one event, the next project is right around the corner. It can be a bit relentless, but that’s when we work together! Sometimes freshening up your recruitment strategies is as easy as browsing a new list of ideas to boost your brainstorming.

1.  Make it Exclusive – Work the perks 

Enticing new volunteers or returning volunteers can be as simple as offering some perks! Not everyone has the budget to provide volunteer-only swag, but I bet there’s something you can give to your volunteers that is different than what’s available to the public. Are there certain hours you can give them exclusive access to your event or vouchers for a VIP area? Or are there some perks that you’ve used in the past that you can bring back?

2. Make it Competitive – Recruit-a-friend challenge

Play up your volunteers’ competitive sides while also letting them help you with you job! Set up a volunteer challenge that rewards volunteers who recruit others to volunteer with them. The more people you recruit, the better the prize! Plus friends who volunteer together tend to have more fun and are more likely to come back to help again. 

3. Make it Easy – Remove the barriers

Take a look at your volunteer sign up methods. Are you making it as easy as possible? Sometimes we overcomplicate things in the name of getting all the information we could ever need. But remember, volunteers may just quit filling out the form if we make it too difficult. VolunteerLocal has some great tools to help keep it simple!

And what about that website? Are you clearly presenting who you are? Keeping your online presence easy to read and simple to navigate helps people fully understand why their time is valuable to your organization and why your organization is valuable to them.

4. Make it Fun – Host some recruitment events

Build bridges to the local community by hosting some purely fun events! What fits best in your context?  A trivia night? Karaoke? 3-on-3 basketball? These simple events not only increase your brand awareness, but can also help you connect with potential volunteers you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

5. Make it Visible – Update those flyers

Brochures, posters, and press releases are essential tools for volunteer recruitment. How can you bump up their effectiveness? Think about updating the design or expanding your normal posting places. Keep a list of community organization that may welcome you as a guest speaker! Work all these avenues to get your volunteer need as visible as possible.

6. Make it Social – Social media can work for you

Find the best social media platforms for your goals! Creating a private Facebook group for your volunteers may help increase camaraderie. Instagram’s story feature may be the perfect avenue to increase behind-the-scenes excitement and get quick feedback. Think through your event and how to best connect to your people. There are so many tools out there. Make them work for you!

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Six Fresh Ways to Jumpstart Volunteer Recruitment

Anne Summers

Volunteer recruitment—it’s just one of those things that is never fully crossed off the list, right? When you’ve fulfilled your volunteer need for one event, the next project is right around the corner. It can be a bit relentless, but that’s when we work together! Sometimes freshening up your recruitment strategies is as easy as browsing a new list of ideas to boost your brainstorming.

1.  Make it Exclusive – Work the perks 

Enticing new volunteers or returning volunteers can be as simple as offering some perks! Not everyone has the budget to provide volunteer-only swag, but I bet there’s something you can give to your volunteers that is different than what’s available to the public. Are there certain hours you can give them exclusive access to your event or vouchers for a VIP area? Or are there some perks that you’ve used in the past that you can bring back?

2. Make it Competitive – Recruit-a-friend challenge

Play up your volunteers’ competitive sides while also letting them help you with you job! Set up a volunteer challenge that rewards volunteers who recruit others to volunteer with them. The more people you recruit, the better the prize! Plus friends who volunteer together tend to have more fun and are more likely to come back to help again. 

3. Make it Easy – Remove the barriers

Take a look at your volunteer sign up methods. Are you making it as easy as possible? Sometimes we overcomplicate things in the name of getting all the information we could ever need. But remember, volunteers may just quit filling out the form if we make it too difficult. VolunteerLocal has some great tools to help keep it simple!

And what about that website? Are you clearly presenting who you are? Keeping your online presence easy to read and simple to navigate helps people fully understand why their time is valuable to your organization and why your organization is valuable to them.

4. Make it Fun – Host some recruitment events

Build bridges to the local community by hosting some purely fun events! What fits best in your context?  A trivia night? Karaoke? 3-on-3 basketball? These simple events not only increase your brand awareness, but can also help you connect with potential volunteers you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

5. Make it Visible – Update those flyers

Brochures, posters, and press releases are essential tools for volunteer recruitment. How can you bump up their effectiveness? Think about updating the design or expanding your normal posting places. Keep a list of community organization that may welcome you as a guest speaker! Work all these avenues to get your volunteer need as visible as possible.

6. Make it Social – Social media can work for you

Find the best social media platforms for your goals! Creating a private Facebook group for your volunteers may help increase camaraderie. Instagram’s story feature may be the perfect avenue to increase behind-the-scenes excitement and get quick feedback. Think through your event and how to best connect to your people. There are so many tools out there. Make them work for you!

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The Most Common Types of Volunteers (and How to Manage Them)

Every volunteer team has its share of characters–gotta collect them all! 

Whether you’ve been around the block a few times or you’re new to this whole volunteer-coordinator-thing, there’s bound to be a few familiar faces on your team. It’s important to know who to expect, what motivates them, and how you can best lead them. 

The over-eager 

This person is SO excited to be here. Simply thrilled. There’s a task to be done? Got it. You were thinking about changing that? Already done. In so many ways this person can be a real asset to a team, as long as they don’t drive you crazy first. When you’ve got someone who is over-eager, try to harness that energy and enthusiasm. But also use clear communication with them to create boundaries as needed so their excitement doesn’t rub anyone the wrong way or get too out of hand. 

The hand-holder 

Ah, the one who does everything just the way you tell them to…because they won’t know what to do otherwise. This person needs and yearns for constant instructions to know exactly what they are doing and how to do it. You know you can trust they will follow orders, but sometimes this person can take all of your time or need a little too much attention. If you aren’t able to metaphorically hold their hand through each step of the process, try to pair them with a leader who can help supervise. But also, try to find ways that you can empower the hand-holder to use their best judgment to make decisions and step in to help without needing a step-by-step instruction sheet. 

The swag collector 

In it for the t-shirt, the sticker, the pens, the bag or the free food. Whenever they hear “free”, they are suddenly there. You know what motivates this volunteer, it’s quite easy to see. So make sure you pad your budget in order to offer free swag. Not only will you have some happy volunteers, but your brand is worn all over town afterwards. Think of it as cheap marketing meets free labor instead of getting annoyed that these volunteers expect something in return. At the same time, try to set expectations and find other possible motivators for these volunteers (such as the organization’s mission, the culture, the networking) so you can encourage them to stick around, with or without a t-shirt to show for it. 

The socialite 

Let’s take a selfie! This volunteer is in it for the friends, the networking, the connections. Maybe it’s a stay-at-home mom desperate for some time out of the house or maybe it’s someone new to town who is ready to meet new people. Volunteering can be a community thing, so make sure these volunteers know they are welcome! Not only will they be the ones wanting to build up the culture and have some fun with your team, but they might invite some more friends to come along with them. Just be sure to keep these volunteers on task as needed as they tend to get sidetracked talking about their latest Netflix binge or where they plan to meet for drinks later. Also, watch out for cliques forming and try to encourage an inclusive environment for all volunteers on the team. 

The time-tracker 

Can you sign my sheet? This volunteer is in it to check the box and mark down the hours. Whether it’s for high school graduation, required community service work, or corporate volunteer day, they have to be here. While this person might obsessively watch the clock, they probably still had a few choices when it came to where exactly they wanted to volunteer. Consider this volunteer as one of your biggest opportunities when recruiting future volunteers. They will do what you tell them to (because getting your signature depends on it!) but in the process, you might win them over so they want to come again next time all on their own. 

The natural leader 

The person with a plan and some ideas on how to implement it. This volunteer is a leader and they probably already know that. Maybe they are a leader in their day job or maybe people just gravitate toward them for thoughts and opinions. Awesome, you’ve been wanting one of those, right? If you spot a leader, give them a leadership role that suits both them and your needs. Sometimes your leadership positions are all filled though, so you’ve got to make sure this volunteer doesn’t step on any toes. If all you’ve got left are some mundane tasks, pair them with a hand-holder to get it done together. Later on, feel free to ask them if they’d like to apply for a leadership role in the future.  

Of course, there are variations of all of these people on every volunteer team. At the end of the day, it’s about finding out what makes them tick and how to best leverage their skills, interests, and tendencies to make your volunteer team as strong as it can be. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses (yes, even you), but instead of seeing why a volunteer is driving you crazy, seek to understand where they best fit on the team. Being a volunteer coordinator and leading the team to success isn’t always easy but coming at it with the right perspective makes all the difference. You’ve got this! 

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Juggling On-Site Operations

We spend a lot of time focusing on the people-side of volunteer management, and for good reason! But for today, let’s focus on some of the underlying support systems that make your event run smoothly. In event planning there are some basic on-site tools and procedures to equip your staff and volunteers in the ways of efficiency, safety, and communication. 

Super exciting topics? Not necessarily. But let’s think of each of these topics as a ball in the air you must juggle. To keep anything (everything) from hitting the floor, you need to keep moving, stay balanced, and show confidence. It may not be the most fun part of your job, but you can do it! Let’s dig into some of the details.

Efficiency

Working your way through the logistics part of your event is crucial to success. Your guests want to have a smooth, simple experience. Yet we know that the easier something looks, the more planning it usually takes. Invest some time into mapping out all the procedures and tools needed to keep things working at the highest efficiency.

1. Identify and Outline Required Tasks

Tackling all the aspects of an event can be daunting. I know I’m guilty of avoiding jobs that seem overwhelming! But get everything down on paper. Not only does this allow you get a high-level view of the work yet to be done, but it also helps you see connections among the items that need to be accomplished.

2. Organize Task Orders

Once your list is complete, let’s put them into helpful categories. When you see related items, put them into a task order that helps you and your team know where to start and where to proceed. For instance…

  • In order for guests to have a smooth check-in experience, you need to have well-staffed gates.
  • In order to know how many volunteers you need to properly staff check-in, you need to know how many gates you’ll provide.
  • In order to figure out how many gates you should open, you first need to anticipate an expected volume of guests.

Great! Now you have a starting point to move forward.

3. Delegate

You’ve put in the time and work to capture all the task information and sort it into to-do lists. Now it’s time to get really efficient and delegate! Your work has equipped your team to carry it to completion.

Safety

Ok! Your tossing one ball in the air, and you’re doing awesome! Time to go to the next level. Safety is another topic that usually stays in the background until something goes wrong. When efficiency goes haywire, people are annoyed. When safety is mishandled, people get hurt. It’s worth your time! 

Keeping people safe starts with simple things like establishing a clear perimeter through permanent structures and portable fencing or implementing a bag check. When you’re training volunteers, outline different safety procedures like directing guests to safe locations in case of severe weather or how to convert an entrance into an exit in the case of an evacuation. By putting thought and effort into these situations before the event, you are able to confidently lead your team and successfully serve your guests when the time comes.

Communication

Juggling wouldn’t be juggling without a third item hurling through the air, right? Communication—the true power that drives efficiency and safety and allows you to be an effective leader on the day of the event. 

VolunteerLocal’s Happy Volunteering Blog has a plethora of resources for interpersonal communication, but make sure you’re also outfitted with the right tools to get things done. Make sure your team has access to radios, extra batteries, and relevant contact numbers. If you’re offering public Wi-Fi, it can be hugely beneficial to set up private Wi-Fi access points to keep your digital tools working well and to keep your team’s communication moving freely. With these tools and plans in place, you’ll be able to handle whatever your event throws at you and perform like a pro! 

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Creating a Successful Volunteer Budget

Let’s face it – the typically tight budget for volunteer programs can be a little straining. After all, we know that “volunteer” does not mean “free” – but when you’re juggling coordinating an event and nurturing volunteers, there’s extra meaning to “a little goes a long way.”

When it comes to budgeting, there are a range of things to consider as a volunteer coordinator: What is the best way to spend your money? What can you do without? 

And most important of all: How do you throw a great event for the attendees and the volunteers, such that everyone is inspired to return for another year?

Get your priorities straight

Identify what you can and can’t live without, the reasons why and the consequences that will occur for either decision. Be sure to know what you need so you’re able to maintain the best practices that your organization strives to achieve for its volunteer program. That means having a plan or structure in place so you know the necessities of your program are, and what you need to achieve your goals.

Recognition is key

Even with a small budget, you can find a way to show your volunteers the importance of their work and (at the same time) say “thank you.” Consider this a necessity. Whether you throw a post-event appreciation party, provide everyone with limited-run t-shirts or some other token of appreciation, these are the actions that will help to cultivate the goodwill you need to keep volunteers coming back, year-after-year.

Two birds one stone

Volunteers help out in all different areas of an event. Can you create a line-item in your budget to nurture volunteer relationships? For example: If you’re throwing a food truck festival and charging tickets for entry, is there enough wiggle room to also allow volunteers a free pass? Communicate with your colleagues and figure what opportunities there are for a win-win scenario.

Volunteers are key to your success. Finding the right budget balance between making an event spectacular for attendees, while making sure the volunteer experience is also fantastic, is critical for an organization’s continued growth.

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Establishing Volunteer Check-In Locations

Avoiding no-shows and getting volunteers where they need to go is key when it comes to volunteer check-in locations. 

First things, first. Sometimes we forget that that in order for volunteers to volunteer, they have to get there. We’ve all had no-shows at some point or another, but then again, I know I’ve been on the other side of things, too–wandering around while trying to figure out where I was supposed to be. 

Communicate clearly 

This is a real “duh” item…but for real, communicate clearly. Sometimes in our own familiarity with the layout and all of the details we forget that many of the volunteers are coming in blind. What’s simply “in the building next door” for us, should probably more clearly be communicated to volunteers as, “On the corner of Elm St. and 1st Ave, there’s an office building next to ours. Go through the door labeled ‘Main Entrance’ and take the stairwell to the right to the second floor. There you will be able to check-in at the volunteer registration table located at the top of the stairs.” If you aren’t sure if you are being specific enough, have a trusted volunteer check your instructions and see if they can follow it perfectly without prior knowledge of the location mentioned. 

Location, location, location 

When determining where volunteers should check in, consider where they are coming from–physically and mentally. Is the parking garage on the other side of the race from where you have the volunteer check-in set-up? Will the check-in spot require a 10-step set of instructions to get there without issue? Think about first time volunteers when you determine your volunteer check-in location. You may want to station a few check-in spots in obvious corners of the event if it’s spread out or one main location that’s easy to find before sending volunteers to their posts. If you do this, just make sure they can still check in and get their time recorded regardless of which check-in station they go to. If you have a lot of volunteers for a large event, it may even be necessary to list the volunteer check-in location on the general map. Or, when you send out an email with the location details, include a dropped pin for the check-in desk so volunteers can get to you by way of GPS. Even if your event is smaller, don’t underestimate the value of a clear and easy-to-get-to check-in location. 

Distribution of information  

Sometimes, despite your best efforts in communication and strategic location decisions, a volunteer will still get lost or not know where to go. Maybe they only skimmed the email or maybe they got their left and right turns confused. Either way, make sure someone else knows where volunteers need to go to help get them pointed in the right direction. If there’s a general info tent, be sure to instruct them on where to send volunteers (or provide the info tent the list of places if the volunteer check-in changes based on the time of day or type of volunteer duty). Also, include contact info for at least two people for volunteers to contact on the big day should something go wrong. That way if the first person is busy and can’t pick up their phone, they have another person to get a hold of. This is especially helpful for new volunteers who have no friends or contacts yet to reach in case something changes or they are running late or just get lost. More likely than not, you won’t be checking emails at that time so if they don’t have some phone numbers to reach out to just in case then they may walk away in frustration if their only option is to reply to your original email. 

Unfortunately, you may still have no-shows. But hopefully you can keep those to a minimum by reducing confusion and establishing volunteer check-in locations that get volunteers off to a great start. Oh, and don’t forget to always have someone continuously posted at the check-in location! Nothing worse than having the perfect directions and check-in spot, only for it to be an unmanned desk. Keep someone there well before and after the time volunteers are to report in because you can count on having a fair share of both early arrivers and those volunteers who are always running late. 

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Managing Legacy Volunteers

There are new volunteers and then there are the volunteers who have seen it all and been there forever. Both types need you and vice versa. 

There’s always at least a few volunteers who have been there forever…the legacy volunteers. They have tons of knowledge and maybe even decades of experience. They bring a lot of value to your team, but can also present somewhat of a challenge. Whether you are new to your position and inheriting these volunteers or just trying to figure out the best way to continue working with them, here are some best practices to keep in mind when in comes to legacy volunteers.  

Show some respect. If someone has been a volunteer with you or your organization for years, give them a whole bunch of respect and appreciation. Seriously, how amazing is it that they’ve continued to commit year after year? Don’t take them for granted and be sure to let them know how glad you are that they have given their time and energy as a core volunteer. If you are newer to the event or organization than they are, then there is probably a lot you can learn from them, which is a huge asset to your team. You likely won’t have to hold their hand like the new volunteers and can trust their abilities to fulfill their duties. Perhaps they have worked in the same role for years, which can also be a benefit.

Honor their continued dedication by promoting them if they are ready. Ask them if they want to try out something new or even better–find out if they would be willing to help train and lead newer volunteers to do the same job. 

Set boundaries. While you definitely want to treat your longtime volunteers with respect, you also want to create clear boundaries. Unfortunately, sometimes these volunteers are used to things being a certain way and don’t want you to shake things up or give you some proper respect in return. Be patient with them if this is something you face, but also let them know that ultimately the decisions are yours. They may challenge you in this process if you’re new, but find ways to communicate with them kindly yet honestly about what you’re doing and what your goals are in doing so.

Instead of just cutting them loose, try to reach a common understanding because deep down, you both care for the success of this event and/or organization. If you are still having a hard time, look to some of your coworkers who have been around longer than you have for advice on how to best connect with this volunteer while also standing your ground when necessary. That said, if an agreement cannot be reached and a legacy volunteer is unwilling to budge, let them know what the expectations are of current volunteers and the boundaries they must follow under your leadership, regardless of what it was like in the past. If they can’t comply with those boundaries and expectations, then unfortunately you may have to ask them to step down.  

Ask for their cooperation. With these experienced volunteers, you both need each other. No, they may not need as many instructions or an orientation, but they do still need your leadership and direction. Likewise, you need their skills, time, and effort as a volunteer…not to mention some of their knowledge and wisdom gained from being around so long. Try to work to each other’s strengths and start by asking them to be involved in that process. You need their cooperation. Ask for guidance and advice when appropriate. Ask them to use their experience to lead others. And finally, ask for their flexibility and understanding as you make changes or have your own learning curve to face. 

No matter how long a volunteer has been with your organization, remember they are all sacrificing something to be there and all carry value. Legacy volunteers may need a different management style at times in order to give them more freedom or flexibility, but they can have a huge impact on you and your team. Hear them out, learn from them, but also remember that you are in charge. You have the responsibility and privilege of providing vision and leadership to all of your volunteers, whether they are legacy or brand-new.

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Creating Goals for Your Volunteer Base

Knowing ahead of time what you want to accomplish with volunteers sets both you and them up for success. 

We’ve got squad goals, relationship goals, personal goals, soccer goals…you name it. So can you tell me what your volunteer goals are? 

You have a number of people present and ready to help, so what’s the goal? They may have their own motivations for being there and thoughts on how they can best help, but what do you think? What are you hoping to accomplish through each individual volunteer and with the volunteer group as a whole? 

Make a plan 

Before things get crazy or overrun by too many cooks in the kitchen, outline your goals. What needs do you have? What can be accomplished by volunteers and what needs to be done by staff or by someone with a certain level of credentials? Outside of the actual assigned volunteer tasks, are you hoping to recruit and retain more volunteers? Are you trying to make a splash in the community or gain corporate partnerships? How do the goals you set out for your volunteers align with the mission of the organization? 

Ask for areas of interest 

Now that you have an idea of what you are hoping to accomplish, what is it that your volunteers want? You can’t read minds, so go ahead and ask them! Send out a survey to get to know your volunteers to understand what makes them tick. Or, include a checklist of areas they may be interested in or experienced with during the volunteer registration process. Not only will they have certain areas of interest, but volunteers may have extra motivation to be there to network or bolster a particular skill set. Be careful to align expectations and not overpromise. Sometimes you want more than anything to say this volunteer experience will look great on a resume or that they can volunteer wherever they want, but that’s not always realistic. You can only have so many social media managers on a volunteer team, or sometimes a volunteer experience will benefit the community more than their resume. 

Consider the big picture

You may have primary goals like accomplishing the tasks at hand but keep in mind secondary goals like volunteer retainment and recruitment. Sure, you need to pass out water to all the runners, but you want to make this volunteer experience a memorable and enjoyable one. Likewise, volunteers may have primary goals like learning a new skill or rubbing elbows with musicians, but if those can’t be met, make sure you give them a glimpse of the big picture, too. They need to know how their involvement makes an impact and how their primary goals can be achieved in the future.

As a volunteer coordinator, you can’t get too bogged down in the individual needs and wants of every person on the team, because it’s almost impossible to keep everyone happy. Making sure your goals and the goals of your volunteers align with the mission of the organization helps keep everyone in check with what’s to be expected and what’s realistic. 

Writing up a list of defined goals for volunteers usually isn’t a difficult task, but it does take time and thought. Make sure to take the time to think through what you want for volunteers and what they might want from you. Then, back it up with feedback from volunteers to make sure you’re all on the same page. Comparing and contrasting your goals and the goals of your volunteers might provide clarity on what your goals are and what they aren’t.

You may not hit every goal every year, but providing some benchmarks will help you plan and prepare for this year and for years to come.

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