Rebuilding and Reframing for Volunteer Management – Post COVID

As we begin to consider what our new normal will look like, remembering the roots of volunteerism and adapting them the new world is crucial. This evolution is not just essential for the good of our agencies, but for our profession as well.

We must be forward thinking. WE have to be the leaders to promote our programs and prove the value of engaging the support of volunteers.

Our fundamentals are rooted in recruiting, screening, training and the placement of volunteers. Many volunteer managers haven’t stopped their work through COVID-19 but many must reinvent and recreate their programs. Listed below are some tips to getting back to basics as you begin welcoming your volunteers back!

Needs Assessment

The first step is to conduct a needs assessment. There are four points to consider. What are the community needs, the organizational needs, the needs of the volunteer services program and the needs of the volunteers? Where is the sweet spot where those four aspects intersect? Can your volunteers serve these needs virtually or within social distancing guidelines? If not, can you consider an out of the box solution to move your program forward?


Once completing your needs assessment, plan to reassess current volunteer placements. Collaborate with your organization’s staff and leadership to consider all aspects of your organization’s needs and how volunteers can help serve those needs.

Screening and Training

Through this pandemic, we have learned that screening and training can be completed virtually. It isn’t our first choice, but it can be done well. There are great resources to help support the implementation of virtual screening and training, many are free or inexpensive. One such example is the free online webinars offered by the Texas Volunteer Management Conference (


Consider the need for facemasks, gloves and social distancing for volunteer placements. Also consider your own agency’s requirement, local and state requirements. Many organizations have successfully created opportunities to continue volunteer involvement while maintaining healthy social distancing practices. Consider current legal requirements, taking temperatures, updating the volunteer handbook and creating a COVID questionnaire and waiver. Solicit support from HR and your peers in the volunteer management community.


Create your plan and present the post COVID-19 volunteer management plan to your organization’s leadership team. It is imperative to have buy in from leadership. Now, more than ever, volunteer professionals must insist on having a seat at the table.

As professional volunteer managers, the last thing that we want to see is the decline or elimination of opportunities to serve, opportunities to create advocates, opportunities to move the needle of our missions. Many of us have spent our careers being creative and constantly being problem solvers. We must continue to think out of the box with ways to connect our volunteers to the mission of our organizations.

While so much of this can be overwhelming, this is what we do. We adapt to the needs. The needs of the community haven’t stopped. In many respects, they’ve grown. Who’s hurting, who needs support? It might be our very own volunteers.

Disconnection and social distancing are unnatural to our work. At our core, we are connectors. How do we continue to connect our volunteers to meaningful work and our mission? While many of us have been paralyzed by fear, we cannot and will not give up!

Now, more than ever, we need to work together for the good of our profession and for the sake of those in need. There may be some uncertainty or even a bit of fear with the unknown future of volunteerism. That is precisely why we need to be leaders in our profession. We have the unique opportunity to be trailblazers, to CREATE the new normal for volunteerism. Our agencies and our volunteers are depending on our experience and our vision for the new face of service.

This is where peer support is imperative. Supporting each other professionally has never been more important. Together, we can overcome the challenges facing us. Let’s work TOGETHER to create what WE think the new normal should be for service and volunteerism.

Guest post by Stephanie Canfield, Leadership Community Advocate.

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A Reflection: Volunteering Transformed

I’m a giver. Sure you may call it codependent, but I like to think of it as giving.

I tend to prioritize other’s needs above my own. The good is that I get a lot of satisfaction out of volunteering.  The bad, well, I’d be more than happy to share with you details about the bad part, but only if I could pay for an hour of your time once per week.

I started volunteering at a young age. As a kid I’d spend summer days supporting physically disabled kids with my mother instead of hanging out with my friends. I spent Thanksgivings feeding the less fortunate. 

At an early age volunteering became an embodiment of who I am.

I give to the homeless. I always acknowledge those less fortunate and feel awkward when I walk by without giving them a little something.

I volunteer for shelters, community efforts and various non-profits. I go to events and work 10-12 hour volunteer shifts for days on end with nary a complaint.

But then a global pandemic descended upon us and suddenly things have changed.

It’s weird. When other disasters have hit in the past, I’d be driven to volunteer. Immediately after the Northridge quake I began efforts to search and rebuild.  The morning after the Rodney King LA Riots, I went down to Watts and Compton and started cleaning and rebuilding.  I did fundraising after 9/11 and food drives in the 2008 recession.  I am always eager to help and give back.

But in a global pandemic?

No thanks.

 I’ve found myself in an uber-selfish mode. I  am scared to help.   I am more hesitant to give to the needy because I don’t want to risk sickness. I am more hesitant to volunteer for organizations or events because I don’t want to be in crowds.   But the irony of this is that one of the most selfless things one can do these days is to avoid volunteering in crowds with others.  It’s important that we don’t co-mingle until we’re on the other side of COVID-19.

However, once there is a vaccine, will my mindset change?  It’s so easy to be selfish, to stay stuck in my own little world.  It’s so easy to stay scared even when the fear should subside.

In the end, we still don’t knows the long term impact this virus will have on volunteering. 

Because of it’s ease in spreading disease, cash is quickly becoming a thing of the past. If we move even further to a cashless society, what happens to the homeless and mentally ill who live off the generosity of others?

Will it be more difficult for events to get volunteers to help? Have we just knocked off the entire 65+ age group from ever volunteering again?

Will face masks and gloves be common place for volunteers? Health checks for all? Will higher risk people stop volunteering for fear of disease? Will healthy people stop volunteering for fear of the higher risk people?

The supplies alone may cost more for organizations to prepare for volunteers. So the ones who can’t afford the supplies – the ones who are in most need of help – may have the hardest time getting volunteer support.

I definitely can’t see into the future but I know how I feel now. And my feelings are currently on the “heck no” side of the desire to volunteer spectrum.

I suspect that will change as time goes by. But we are in a time of cultural transition, the result of which could be a significant shift in human behavior.

We are being secluded on our homes. We are rightfully being fed fear of physically interacting with others.

But we can lose site of who we are are and soon, I can only hope, the selfishness currently required to survive transforms back into an urgent need to help. And once again we can volunteer.

About the Author: Jeff Matlow

Jeff is the founder of imATHLETE.  He’s got a really good newsletter about best practices that you should sign up for here:

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Engaging & Growing Volunteer Programs During & After COVID-19

In times of social distancing and quarantine, it might feel like the whole world has come to a halt. When time seems to move more slowly, we often find ourselves with an opportunity to reflect.

Volunteer coordinators might find themselves reflecting on their volunteer programs. How is the program faring, overall? How are the spirits of the volunteers, given the current circumstances? What will ensure the wellbeing and moral of your volunteer base during and after times of COVID-19?

We’ve put together a “Top-10” list of creative ideas to grow and enrich your volunteer base in preparation for eventually re-opening your doors:

  1. Develop a recruitment team. Find volunteers/staff who make it a focus to meet regularly to discuss and implement initiatives focused on new volunteers. (Remember, you can get started on this now with virtual meeting platforms, like Zoom.)
  2. Create fun team names and/or titles for your different volunteer groups! This will help your volunteers bond and get to know each other, without even trying.
  3. Create short-term project teams to help volunteers get a feel for your organization and make an impact before committing long-term. Depending on the nature of the project, they might even be able to do it from home!
  4. Recruit volunteers online (Idealist, Network for Good, VolunteerMatch).
  5. Develop partnerships with companies that will bring in new volunteers. We’ve heard it before, and it’s true in this context as well: we’re stronger together.
  6. Reach out to local schools for potential field days, workshops, and collaborations.
  7. Come up with a friendly competition! For example: Who can make the best sign/flyer? Who can come up with the catchiest tweet?
  8. Make it quirky! A famous example: the ice bucket challenge.
  9. Reach out to local government organizations that can offer community-mandated volunteers.
  10. Research “volunteer organization meet and greet” events that may be happening in your area, or organize one of your own! Again, this can be held virtually.

We are inspired by the creativity and ingenuity we are observing from volunteers and volunteer coordinators around the world during these challenging times. We hope that these tips are helpful in keeping volunteers engaged and growing a volunteer base, even after COVID-19.

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