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Volunteer Management as a Career

Considering a career in volunteer management? Here is some information on what you can expect in this field, including some sample position descriptions, skills required, statistics, stories on a day in the life of a volunteer management professional, and how to find, apply, and interview for a volunteer management position:

Position Descriptions

Job descriptions for volunteer management positions vary as widely as the titles; however, there are generally some key common elements. Core tasks almost always include:

  • Developing volunteer position descriptions
  • Community outreach to find volunteers
  • Screening (interviews, required background checks, etc.) and matching volunteers to organizational needs and opportunities
  • Training and orientation for volunteers
  • Scheduling and supervision of volunteers
  • Volunteer recognition

In addition most volunteer management professionals are responsible for oversight and management of the volunteer program, including:

  • Assessing organizational need and capacity for volunteers
  • Creating volunteer program materials (policies and procedures, applications, volunteer agreements, orientation handbooks
  • Database management and tracking of volunteer statistics
  • Risk management
  • Strategic planning
  • Financial management and budgeting
  • Program evaluation

Volunteer management professionals also frequently partner with public relations, marketing, and/or development colleagues on outreach and fundraising activities.

For a great visual of volunteer management theory, check out this model offered by Volunteer Canada.

Examples of Volunteer Management Job Descriptions:

You can also find current volunteer management job postings by searching Idealist.org or visiting Energize, Inc.

Skills Required

Some key skills are nearly universal to the field. For example, as relationship managers working with diverse populations (volunteers, staff, board members, community members, etc), cultural sensitivity and people-skills like good listening and good communications (written and oral) are vital. Here are some more important skills for a career in volunteer management:

  • Strong judge of character (this is subjective but much of the work in matching volunteers relies on instinct and the ability to read people)
  • Leadership experience
  • Conflict management skills (in addition to avoiding and/or alleviating conflict, volunteer management professionals need to know how to let volunteers go)
  • Ability to multi-task
  • Detail-oriented and organized
  • Experience developing and implementing project plans
  • Ability to work both independently and as a member of a larger staff team
  • Familiar with diverse technologies and software (this is especially important at organizations that use the Internet to recruit and/or communicate with volunteers)
  • Ability to connect with diverse types of organizations: schools, businesses, government, faith organizations, etc.

Additional skills that are highly valued include:

  • Knowledge of volunteerism and volunteer management practices
  • Public speaking/Facilitation skills
  • Marketing/Public Relations
  • Fundraising/Grant writing
  • Program management, including budgeting and financial oversight
  • Supervisory experience
  • Multi-lingual
  • Knowledge and/or experience with the organization, its mission, and the cause/issue it is addressing

A great way to further establish your credentials, as well as advance the professionalism of the field, is to earn your accreditation/certification.

While many organizations differ on how much education and/or volunteer management experience they look for in a candidate, it is worth noting that some volunteer management positions may have specific guidelines. For example, according to LaVerne Campbell, National Director of Volunteer Services at Volunteers of America, the position of Director or Vice President of Volunteers/Volunteer Resources may require at least five years of experience, expertise in volunteer administration and nonprofit management, and an undergraduate or graduate degree in volunteer administration or a related field. Conversely, Manager of Volunteer Resources/Volunteer Manager positions may require at least two years experience, a good understanding of the field, and an undergraduate degree while Coordinator of Volunteers/Volunteer Coordinator positions may be entry level, i.e. an associate or undergraduate degree and volunteer experience is preferred but neither are necessarily required. (To learn more about the distinctions between these three titles, see By Any Other Name...)

Finally, according to one volunteer management professional, anyone considering this field must have patience, compassion, and professionalism. They should embrace their role as an ambassador for their organization and its volunteers to the community and "never ever get tired of saying thank you...never take lightly any of the work any volunteer does."

Additional Resources:

A Day in the Life

A day in the life of a volunteer management professional varies significantly, depending on the type of organization they work for, the size of the organization, the structure of the volunteer program, the amount of time the volunteer manager can allot to the volunteer program, and the volunteer needs of the overall organization. That said, here are a few examples of a day in the life of a volunteer management professional:

VM #1 works for a nonprofit health organization in a mid-sized community on the West Coast:

My volunteer program is event based-- we have 30+ events and over 500 active volunteers each year. Volunteers are both medical (surgeons, nurses, etc) and non-medical. A typical day for me involves a lot of time spent at the computer coordinating schedules, updating opportunity postings, and responding to phone calls from volunteers wanting to sign up. I work 7-12 weekends a year. I also attend a lot of night functions. I have never worked a 40 hour week.

VM #2 manages volunteers for a for-profit senior care organization in the Northeastern U.S.:

There is no typical day. Every day is different, often full of surprises and the volunteer manager must be flexible enough to go with the flow. In my own day, I usually begin by checking my voice mail, my e-mail and my snail mail. I might then hold interviews with prospective volunteers, write press releases and mail and e-mail them to the media, local community groups, etc. I contact the supervisors in our various facilities and check on their needs in order to prepare the proper way to recruit volunteers for them. I read periodicals like the Volunteer Management Report, etc. After I have interviewed prospective volunteers, I would make appointments for them to meet with the appropriate supervisors. I attend team meetings of the heads of departments, etc. I represent my agency on the committees and boards of other community programs and market our facilities to the community.

VM #3 lives in a small Midwestern city and works for a nonprofit hospital and medical services organization:

[What does a typical day look like for you?]
Interviewing potential volunteers
Conducting orientation/training for new volunteers
Juggling vacancies in key stations where volunteers don't show up or are unavailable
Answering the telephone
Scheduling interviews
Arranging schedules for different stations where volunteers are utilized
Networking with peers (CyberVPM - online discussion group; state association, etc)
Working with high school students for internship/mentorship placements for school year
Follow-up with new placements for evaluation and potential re-assignment

VM #4 serves as Director of both Volunteer and Human Services for a suburban East Coast branch of an international nonprofit organization:

In general, a typical day usually involves a look at the calendar and project plans that I have created to see what is the biggest priority for the day, week and month then act accordingly. I work very closely with our [Volunteer Coordinator] who deals with the bulk of administrative volunteer management tasks, like answering emails and calendar scheduling. I try to spend time answering inquiries about our volunteer opportunities and particularly we are trying to develop relationships with community partners that we may collaborate with to enhance the mission of our organization. I also communicate and brainstorm with other staff members to see how we can accomplish the work that everyone needs to get done, to see what the needs are of different departments then strategize and carry out plans to recruit, train, orient and manage our volunteer base. There seems to be a large amount of meetings, discussions and communication involved in every day and a constant need to adjust to new challenges that arise daily or new situations. We also work a lot of evenings and weekends because that is when a large amount of volunteers are available, particularly our committee meetings. We try to take off half days or long weekends when necessary to balance out the long days and 6 day weeks.

Career Trajectories

Volunteer management professionals utilize expertise from a broad range of career paths. Some have transitioned to this profession mid-career, following experience in an entirely different field. For example, one volunteer management professional formerly served as a teacher in public and private schools, one worked in event management, and another directed a program for first year university students. Another volunteer management professional earned graduate degrees in counseling. Yet another spent nearly a decade in real estate and construction project management before transitioning into volunteer management via a volunteer position. According to this professional, "my project management experience gave me the business background I needed and the time spent as a volunteer gave me insight into how volunteers like to be treated."

Others have spent most if not all of their careers in volunteer management. One professional had experience working with and managing volunteers, in addition to expertise in program design and implementation. Another has spent over fifteen years in program and volunteer management, having worked in diverse organizations from local government to state/national/international volunteer management.

Still others make their way to volunteer management careers via volunteering and/or year of service experience. One volunteer management professional was a lifelong volunteer and alumni of AmeriCorps*NCCC. Another served with AmeriCorps VISTA for three years. Increasingly, year of service opportunities are created specifically to do volunteer management, providing the individual with a way to garner skills and experience while simultaneously launching a career in the field.

Volunteer Management Statistics

According to a 2004 study conducted by the Urban Institute, three out of five charitable organizations in the U.S. reported having a paid volunteer management professional on staff; many of these positions were part-time. If you're looking for full-time employment though, don't despair; positions vary quite a bit by community and organization. For example, a 2003 study of volunteer management in Canada, conducted by Imagine Canada, found that nearly three-quarters of their respondents had paid full-time positions as volunteer management professionals.

In both the U.S. and Canadian studies, it was found that paid volunteer management positions were especially common in social services and health organizations. Yet while the U.S. study found that the larger the organization was, the more likely it was to have paid volunteer management staff, the Canadian study found that almost half of participants worked for organizations with fewer than 10 staff. What can we infer from this? Volunteer management positions are pervasive, especially in the nonprofit sector, but what they look like and where they are located is diverse. To find out what the field is like locally, check in with your area professional association.

Salary varies just as much as the snapshot of the field. For example, the 2003 Canadian study found that one-quarter of respondents were paid less than $20,000, another quarter were paid between $30-40,000, and only 22% were paid over $40,000. In the U.S., the Nonprofit Times found in 2005 that Directors of Volunteers made an overall average of $38,428, but varied from $28,800 to $85,000 depending on organizational budget and regional location (to find salary information in your part of the U.S., try CareerBuilder's Salary Calculator). Conversely, in Australia, volunteer management professionals may make up to two times the salary of their peers in the U.S.

Looking for a Position

There are a couple of key steps to finding a position in volunteer management: identifying open positions and preparing for the interview. Here are some suggestions on how to get ready, whether you are transitioning from another career or looking for a volunteer management position right out of high school, college/university, or a year of service:

Where to Look

Volunteer management positions are generally advertised in a number of places. One of the standards is newspaper classifieds; don't forget to check weekly papers if they exist in your area. However, more and more, volunteer management positions can be found online, whether they are on the hiring organization's website, on an online job board like the one hosted by Idealist.org (hint, hint) or Energize, Inc., a local online space like Craigslist, or via local nonprofit networking listservs (in Portland, OR, the Community Nonprofit Resource Group, or CNRG, announces events, volunteer opportunities and job postings to over 15,000 members). Finally, volunteer management positions can also be found through postings and announcements sent out by professional associations.

The Interview

The interview process can vary wildly depending on the organization. Typical questions can cover past experience and expertise, your understanding of the organization's mission and programs, specific volunteer management practices (i.e. what do you do to find, recognize, retain, etc. volunteers?), and program management skills. One volunteer management professional was asked how she planned to develop a volunteer program where none had existed before.

Many applicants only go through one formal interview with the executive director and/or human resources director; others go through several interview stages. One volunteer management professional had three interviews: one with the position's supervisor, one with management peers, and a third with board members. Another applicant had five (!) interviews: an initial phone interview, an interview with the position's supervisor, an interview with the executive director and human resources director, an interview with program staff, and finally, a volunteer shift at the organization for the applicant to develop a greater understanding of the program and its activities. Unfortunately, there is no universal interview model; the good news though is that each job posting should make the interview process clear. And if it isn't clear, simply ask – the more information you have, the better prepared you'll be!

For more information on the profession of volunteer management, check out these resources from Energize, Inc. and Volunteer Canada.