Accommodating Volunteers with Disabilities

Accommodating Volunteers with Disabilities

Accessibility and diversity are about accommodating everyone, not just people with disabilities or people who are from minority groups. You want to make volunteering as welcoming to the widest number of people possible.

Much of what is recommended to create accessibility for people with disabilities turns out to be helpful to everyone. Adding subtitles to your online videos not only makes it possible for people with hearing impairments to understand the material, but also increases their usefulness for people learning English and for people who do not have headphones handy and want to watch the video with the sound turned down so as not to disturb people around them. Read More »

Do Volunteers Want to “Talk Amongst Themselves”?

Do Volunteers Want to “Talk Amongst Themselves”?

Do you think that volunteers (of any kind) would be interested in an online forum community, based on their shared identity as volunteers? Dan Berman, founder of, and Susan debate this question and invite you to weigh in – and to visit his beta site. Read this month’s Hot Topic at EnergizeInc:

Plan for Professional Development in 2015

Plan for Professional Development in 2015

The new year is underway; resolutions have been made; plans set. Have you included dates for professional development in 2015? The best way to make sure you’re saving time for improving your volunteer management skills is to get that time on your calendar. Look to the Energize Directory for the Volunteer Management Profession ( for learning opportunities available to you, including:
Calendar of Conferences, Workshops and Seminars
Ongoing Courses and Classes
Certification and Credentialing Programs
On-demand Webinars
We list events that require onsite attendance and/or are available online – anywhere in the world.

Replace Current Volunteers or Redirect New Ones?

Replace Current Volunteers or Redirect New Ones?

Susan J. Ellis reacts to a newspaper article, “As older Minnesota volunteers leave, who will replace them?” Are we asking the right or wrong questions in situations like this one?! Read this month’s Hot Topic at Read More »

What Did You and Your Volunteers Do Well Last Year?

What Did You and Your Volunteers Do Well Last Year?

Read Susan J. Ellis’ hot topic at

As a Leader of Volunteers

  • Did I have a strategic plan for the year? Was it something I followed and did it guide me to meet important goals?
  • What are three accomplishments of which I am most proud this year?
  • What are three crises or major obstacles that I handled well this year?
  • Did I consistently seek volunteers to partner with me in my own work (modeling that I believe the right volunteer can be amazingly helpful)?
  • Have I intentionally educated paid staff colleagues about teamwork with volunteers throughout the year at “teachable moments”?
  • What new roles for volunteers did we introduce this year? Which no-longer-useful ones did we retire?
  • Did I try new recruitment sources and techniques that gained new volunteers who diversified and expanded our talent pool?
  • Have I dealt with volunteer performance issues honestly, maintaining high standards even if the conversations with faltering volunteers were a bit uncomfortable?
  • Did I find opportunities to shine a spotlight on especially successful volunteer activities – as they occurred and not just at the volunteer recognition event?
  • Did I obtain funding or permission to buy/do something I needed to be more effective in volunteer management?  If I was initially turned down, did I try again with additional case points?
  • Did I succeed in coordinating outreach efforts with the fundraising/development office and staff responsible for public relations, marketing, and publications?
  • How often did I laugh each day? Make others laugh?

Read More »



The image of espionage is of clandestine meetings in trench coats, using high-tech gadgetry. But gathering information through surveillance and indirect means does not have to be illegal, unethical, or even done in the dark. Volunteer resources managers can be quiet explorers, observing carefully what other organizations do or, at least, what they present to the public about what they do. Volunteers can be information-gatherers for your organization and some online spying can teach you about recruiting more volunteers. Read More »

Key Differences Between For-Profits and Not-for-Profits

Key Differences Between For-Profits and Not-for-Profits

Corporate social responsibility intersects with volunteering when a for-profit company encourages its employees to volunteer in the community, whether on company time or on the employees’ personal time – and whether in a pro bono capacity sharing the skills with which they earn a living or pursuing outside interests. And business people are fantastic resources. But sometimes, as former head of General Electric’s employee volunteer program, David Warshaw, says, “Businesses are from Mars; Nonprofits are from Venus.” Read More »

Innovation and Volunteers

Susan J EllisHow do we fit volunteers into innovation programs? Are you using volunteers in innovative ways? Check Susan J. Ellis’ last 2 ‘hot topic’ articles on volunteers and innovation and feel free to leave comments on DOVIA-LA’s blog or social media about your innovative uses of volunteers.

Where Should Volunteer Resources Be ‘Placed’?

Susan J EllisWe touched on this topic at our May meeting about the nexus between fundraising and volunteer management. As always, thanks to Susan J. Ellis for her great thoughts on where volunteers live at our

The question of where to “place” responsibility for the administration of volunteer involvement surfaces repeatedly, with no agreed upon standard practice. While there is no definitely right or wrong department or level in an organization where volunteers belong, where they appear on the organizational chart sends a message as to their importance. As always, the key is to make the choice strategically.


Right now there seems to be a trend for larger nonprofits to put volunteer services into the marketing or public relations department. In most cases, this means a transfer out of the chain of command running the organization’s direct client services, a move that may have unintended consequences.  On the plus side, this placement acknowledges volunteers as vital to strong relations with the community. It also provides the volunteer resources manager (VRM) with access to resources in media relations, technology, graphic arts, and other elements important in recruiting and recognizing volunteers.


On the other side of the coin, however, the marketing staff is removed from the daily operations of the organization and outside of any decision making about client services. This poses a serious problem for the VRM, who must be in the loop about what is going on in order to place volunteers into all units throughout the organization.  This requires ongoing contact with direct service staff and participation in planning sessions no one else in marketing would ever attend. So how can the head of marketing competently supervise the VRM and represent the needs of volunteers higher up the chain?


Another negative is the message this placement sends about the role of volunteers.  Rather than clearly integrated with the service delivery team, being assigned to the marketing department implies that volunteers are mainly “for show” or to win points with the public. It certainly does not convey the sense that volunteers are doing substantive things to further the mission of the organization.


Other Common
Placement O

One can identify pros and cons for any of the placement options common for volunteer services.


In the human resources or personnel department:


Pros: This permits merger (or eliminates duplication) of some systems for creating position descriptions, staff  handbooks, training, and recordkeeping. The VRM is then positioned to be the human resource “specialist for non-paid staff,” and can assure that organization policies foster good employee-volunteer relations, that staff is trained in how to work with volunteers, and more.


Cons: Over time attention to volunteers is whittled down, as volunteers are given lower priority than paid staff. The tendency is to define volunteer management as employee management, without acknowledging the key differences – nor encouraging or funding these special issues.


In the development or fundraising office:


Pros: From this vantage point, volunteers are presented internally and externally as part of the department that coordinates outreach to community groups and businesses, bringing in all community resources (both money and time) to further the mission of the organization.


Cons: As with the marketing department, fundraising staff has little direct involvement with the service delivery staff, so again the VRM is at a disadvantage in placing volunteers strategically. Because most organizations value raising funds more than raising time and talent, the VRM is rarely viewed as apartner in resource development, but rather as an assistant to the staff bringing in money. Even more serious is that volunteers may get the message that they are wanted only for their financial value.


All of the options above put the VRM and volunteers “under” another department. That in itself sends a message. If the organization wants to promote volunteer involvement as important and essential, there are two more choices.


Placed within the executive offices, reporting directly to the executive director:


Pros: This demonstrates the value placed on volunteer engagement and gives the VRM continuous overview of the whole organization, as well as access to top decision makers.


Cons: But the proximity also means that the executive can divert the VRM to other areas and activities unrelated to volunteer engagement. More critically, lower level staff may feel constrained from sharing concerns or needs with the VRM.


Finally there is the creation of an independent volunteer resources department, sending the message that volunteers are recognized as vital enough to warrant focused attention.


Pros: The VRM is seen and treated as a department head, serves on the senior management team, submits a budget to be allocated to support volunteers, and is held accountable for running a successful volunteer involvement initiative.


Cons: Employees can view volunteers as “belonging” to the volunteer resources department when, in fact, everyone is responsible for supporting volunteers wherever their assignment places them. Also, most department heads do not engage themselves in the functioning of other departments and so may wonder why the director of volunteer resources shows up in their work area, speaks to their employees, and works with staff at all levels. Yet this is precisely what is required to identify positions for volunteers and place them effectively.


Where volunteer resources appears on the organizational chart is a decision deserving careful assessment. Recognize that the placement can enable or disable the VRM in developing the potential of volunteer engagement for ongoing success.

This Quick Tip comes from
Susan J. Ellis, President of Energize, Inc. 

Virtual Volunteers

See Susan J. Ellis’s entire article at

The first Web site was opened in 1991. That’s only 23 years ago, yet our world has already been transformed in profound ways. Electronic communication is here to stay, and increasingly mobile computing tools and smartphones are permanent elements of our lives personally and professionally.

As always, volunteering was on the cutting edge of social change. First, volunteers played a critical role in creating the Web itself. And, they continue to help shape cyberspace today, particularly the open source programmers who freely share new ideas and applications. The Web enabled entirely new types of volunteer service that could be completed online. Quickly, this was dubbed virtual volunteering, even though the volunteers were not and are not “virtual.” Online service is done by very real people choosing to contribute their time and skills through the Internet.