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What is Volunteer Management?

Volunteer management is, at its core, selecting and supervising volunteers. Yet it is also much more than that. Volunteer management is a key position in the leveraging of an organization's resources, on par with fundraising/development and human resources. Volunteer management is the gateway to the community, providing citizens with opportunities to become more involved in local issues and global causes, and serving as a grassroots source of public relations and marketing. Volunteer management ensures that there is community buy-in of an organization's mission, thereby strengthening an organization's credibility in the eyes of the public. Volunteer management is the guardian of well-being, for volunteers and constituents, and for the organizations involving them.

An eloquent narrative of the responsibilities of volunteer management professionals, the Universal Declaration on the Profession of Leading and Managing Volunteers, can be found on the Volunteer Canada website.

Where Are Volunteer Management Professionals?

While volunteer management professionals are most common in the nonprofit or non-governmental world, they can be found across all sectors. For example, many public or government entities rely on volunteers to provide services or guide programs; think libraries, tax assistance, social services, parks and recreation. Similarly, many for-profit entities offer volunteer programs to their employees or as part of their philanthropic efforts. The common thread here is volunteers: whether the professional is working for a nonprofit, a government agency, or a corporation, they are all providing support and supervision to volunteers and therefore are all volunteer management professionals.

By Any Other Name...

As diverse as the field of volunteer management is, it should come as little surprise that it encompasses an equally diverse range of job titles. Some of the standards include Volunteer Manager, Volunteer Coordinator, Volunteer Administrator, and Director of Volunteers; there are numerous variations on these themes. For example, in the for-profit sector, titles often include "marketing" or "corporate community relations".

Similarly, according to LaVerne Campbell, National Director of Volunteer Services at Volunteers of America, there are often different tasks and levels of responsibility affiliated with specific titles. For example, a Director or Vice President of Volunteers/Volunteer Resources is more likely to be a member of the senior management team, reporting to the CEO or Executive Director of the organization. This position will work with senior staff and the board of directors to establish policies and planning for the overall volunteer program and will be the lead staff person on volunteer strategies, the head of the volunteer program and/or volunteer resources department, and responsible for supervising additional volunteer program staff.

Conversely, while Managers of Volunteer Resources/Volunteer Managers will be members of a volunteer resources department, potentially supervising other paid or volunteer staff, they will be primarily responsible for maintaining the infrastructure of the program as well as managing day to day operations like assessing needs, crafting volunteer position descriptions, recruiting, interviewing and screening, training, recognizing, and evaluating volunteers and programs.

Finally, Coordinators of Volunteers/Volunteer Coordinators will likely work under the direction of a Manager, providing support to the volunteer program by overseeing such tasks as recognition activities, logistics, tracking and recordkeeping, and communications to volunteers and the public. (To learn more about experience levels affiliated with these three titles, see Skills Required).

However, even with these distinctions, it is worth noting that in many cases the titles are used interchangeably. So while the field continues to streamline title terminology, the easiest way to determine type of position may still be carefully reading the position description to identify tasks and responsibilities.

Myths of Volunteer Management

Everyone has heard the tall tales of volunteer management. Here are just a few of the most common myths in the field:

  1. Volunteers are free
  2. Anyone can manage volunteers
  3. You don't need much time to manage volunteers (aka do it off the side of your desk)
  4. You don't need staff to manage volunteers (aka volunteers manage themselves, volunteers will just show up)
  5. Volunteer management is a luxury we can't afford

Frustrated with these myths? Check out our tips for professional advocacy.

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