January 18, 2024

Episode #93: The 5 Phases of Successful Volunteer Coordination

In this episode, host Tobi examines the mode of operating a successful volunteer coordination initiative. Highlighting the struggle to rebuild volunteer strength amid the pandemic, Tobi elaborates on the five phases that Volunteer Pro teaches: Envisioning the Future, Building the Foundation, Growing Engagement, Sustaining Involvement, and Scaling Leadership.

Tobi explains these strategies in detail, stressing the importance of a comprehensive volunteer strategy that involves not just paperwork but people too. She emphasizes the centrality of having a system to ensure clarity and standardization. Tune in to find out what the 5 phases are and how you can implement them!

Volunteer Coordination – Show Highlights

  • [00:58] – The Challenges of Volunteer Coordination
  • [02:35] – The Secret to Successful Volunteer Coordination
  • [03:07] – The Importance of Systems in Volunteer Coordination
  • [06:48] – The Five Phases of Successful Volunteer Coordination
  • [06:56] – Phase One: Envision the Future
  • [09:58] – Phase Two: Build the Foundation
  • [13:16] – Phase Three: Grow Engagement
  • [16:33] – Phase Four: Sustain Involvement
  • [21:01] – Phase Five: Scale Leadership
  • [26:29] – The Importance of a Volunteer Strategy Success Path

Volunteer Coordination – Quotes from the Episode

Truly successful volunteer coordination that can scale far beyond a single person, the volunteer coordinator, requires a professionalized system that is clear, standardized. Replicable and efficient, and most important, directly contributes to your organization’s most critical goals.”

“If you don’t have a comprehensive strategy, in today’s world, we live in a complex world, and human beings have a lot of challenges to navigate. It’s really difficult to get in front of people and attract them to your cause, and then also keep them coming back.” 

About the Show

Nonprofit leadership author, trainer, consultant, and volunteer management expert Tobi Johnson shares weekly tips to help charities build, grow, and scale exceptional volunteer teams. Discover how your nonprofit can effectively coordinate volunteers who are reliable, equipped, and ready to help you bring about BIG change for the better.

If you’re ready to ditch the stress and harness the power of people to fuel your good work, you’re in exactly the right place!

Contact Us

Have questions or suggestions for the show? Email us at wecare@volpro.net.

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Episode #93 Transcript: The 5 Phases of Successful Volunteer Coordination

Welcome everybody to another episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. I’m your host Tobi Johnson and today I want to take a 10,000-foot view of volunteer coordination. What does it really take to run an effective volunteer initiative in today’s world? What are the key elements? And at Volunteer Pro, we have five phases that we teach both inside the community and in our courses. 

 And I want to talk about that. In my many conversations with nonprofit leaders, there’s a common theme that seems to emerge often, especially lately. We need volunteers, but our legacy approaches simply aren’t working anymore. And I know a lot of you are struggling to build. back volunteer strength and resilience based on, three years of pandemic. 

 And it’s been difficult. There’s also an assumption that there’s some kind of secret tactic, that if they just knew it, it would unlock everything. So, what does it really take to coordinate volunteers successfully? In a way that doesn’t rely on only a few key individuals, that creates a pipeline, a reliable pipeline of community talent that grows its impact over time, and that everyone takes responsibility for.  

Is it just a matter of having the right people? Quality volunteers and volunteer coordinators leading the way or is there something more that’s required and you know I’ve already shared in Volunteer nation episode 70 how to organize a volunteer services department of one So I’ve talked a little bit about the people side of volunteer coordination and in episode 67, I talked about how to set up a new volunteer coordinator for success. 

So more on the skill set that’s needed. But today I want to share what the model for effective volunteer coordination at your nonprofit should look like. So, here’s the real deal. And this is that secret. key, that secret tactic that unlocks everything. And I’m sorry, it’s not really sexy, but it does work. 

Truly successful volunteer coordination that can scale far beyond a single person, the volunteer coordinator, requires a professionalized system that is clear, standardized. Replicable and efficient, and most important, directly contributes to your organization’s most critical goals. And so, it’s all about systems, and regardless of how large or small your nonprofit is, or what cause impact area or areas you focus on, this model will help you build and scale a strong foundation for success. 

It’s been years in the making, our volunteer strategy success path model, and it’s based on my decades of experience working directly in nonprofits and also working with our members and students over the past several years. It details the key steps you need to take to transform your volunteer strategy from fundamental to a fully mature approach. 

And so, I want to talk about what these phases are and give you some details and insight. into what they include so that you can take a step back and look at that 10,000-foot view and say, are we doing this honestly or are we not? It’ll give you a really quick assessment. So, if you’re not driving, you might want to grab a pen and pad of paper. 

I will also be sharing a few milestones in our volunteer strategy success path guide that our members get upon joining our membership. We detail out some of the milestones in each of three maturity levels, early stage, adapting, and mature. So, each of our five phases also has three levels to them. 

So, our members and also our volunteer management fundamentals course is built on this. Same model, but as a member you can really take our guide and assess. Where are we anywhere from early stage? Adapting to mature so there’s levels of capacity within these phases as well. And that’s something that I think people don’t always recognize, they often think well, ‘we’re doing volunteer recruitment.’ 

Yes, we’re doing volunteer retention But actually within those phases of that those pillars There’s actually levels of maturity that organizations go through so in our guide and in our model We went and figured out based on years of experience What we felt were some of the basic things you could have in place all the way to a fully mature approach and so today I want to share as we go through each of these phases I want to share a few of what we call our milestones in each of these and Some will be a more basic early stage and some may be more adapting or mature milestones, but regardless you’ll get a couple of ideas So you get an idea of what specifically we’re talking about when we’re talking about action items Within each of these phases and I think by the end of this episode You’ll have a very clear picture of all that goes into  effective volunteer coordination if you’re an organizational leader a leader of a volunteer involving organization This will also help you understand What your volunteer coordinator should be working on and what your strategy should include? 

And you know If you don’t have a comprehensive strategy, in today’s world, we live in a complex world, and human beings have a lot of challenges to navigate. So, it’s really difficult to get in front of people and attract them to your cause, and then also keep them coming back. It takes a volunteer talent management strategy, and that’s what these five phases in compass. 

So, without further ado let’s just get started so I can help you understand what does the big picture look like. So first off in phase one We call this envision the future. It’s your strategic visioning. It’s creating a bold and strategic vision for leveraging volunteer talent to meet your core organizational goals. 

So, in this phase you really want to gain clarity. on your vision for volunteer engagement, its current state, and how it can even more effectively align with your organization’s goals and aims. Your volunteers are your core human resources in addition to your paid staff, often combined your volunteers offer. 

A, equivalent of some of your full time staff in terms of time contributed and talent contributed So it’s a significant thing if you’re a volunteer driven organization So it’s very important that in this phase you take time to really align the work of volunteers with your most critical goals because they should be contributing directly. 

There should be a direct line between the volunteer’s work or the volunteer team’s work and your organization’s key goals and objectives.   In this critical phase, it’s also really important because it paints a picture of the promise of what’s possible when it comes to volunteer engagement. So, you really are also speaking to your higher aspirations during this phase. 

So, you want to develop a way of communicating how important volunteers are to your organization. You’ll also reflect on your own leadership philosophy, which will set the stage for future decisions and actions specifically for your volunteer coordinator, but also. If you are the agency executive, you might want to think about what your leadership philosophy is when it comes to volunteering. 


And you may say I don’t supervise volunteers. That’s okay. You still need a philosophy about leading this important group of talent. There’s a couple of milestones that you might want to develop at this stage. One is your philosophy of volunteer involvement. We call it a commitment to community statement. 

It is a rationale for volunteerism. Why do volunteers, or why are volunteers involved in your organization in the first place? And it has to be more than just, they’re an extra pair of hands, or they save us money. That’s not a a compelling rationale, and it won’t compel the hearts and minds of those who might want to follow you. 

The second milestone is a strategic plan for volunteer services. And last November we ran a weeklong strategic planning boot camp called Vision Week. And once a year we run this boot camp and we help people through a series of workshops, come up with at the end of the week. week, a draft of their strategic plan. 

So, it’s really important that there is a plan, that you’re not just being reactive, but you’re being proactive. So that’s basically what phase one, Envision the Future, is all about. Let’s look at phase two, Build the Foundation. This is really about program development. This is an essential program development element to support long term success. 

In this phase, you build out an essential blueprint that will guide the implementation of your volunteer strategy. While these elements may evolve over time, they should offer a clear picture and standard operating procedures that should guide the actions of both volunteers and employees. So, these. 

Elements need to be reviewed by and approved by agency leadership. So, if you’re an executive leader listening today, just remember that these are documents that you need to be looking at. And if they are of a higher level, you might also want to have your board take a look as well. or have a board committee take a look. 

Some of the milestones for building the foundation are some of the things that you would traditionally think of when you’re building a volunteer program. For example, position descriptions for key volunteer roles. That’s something that’s essential. Risk assessment and prioritization plan. That’s something you may have thought of, or maybe are just working on maybe doing background checks for volunteers. 

But risk assessment and prioritization are much more than that. It’s about addressing all the risks and potential opportunities that volunteerism can bring to your organization. So, it’s much more complex and nuanced than simply background checks. And we do a lot of work on risk assessment and prioritization inside our membership community. 

So, building the foundation is everything from your risk assessment, your policies and procedures, your handbook, your position descriptions, all those tangible items and paperwork, the paperwork phase. And you’ll notice That I don’t have the paperwork phase in every phase of our volunteer strategy success path. 

That’s on purpose because volunteerism is not only about paperwork, but also about people. So let’s take a quick pause and break from my five phases of successful volunteer coordination. After the break, I’ll share phases three through five with you.  All right. So, I’ll be right back. Okay. 

 If you enjoyed this week’s episode of Volunteer Nation, we invite you to check out the Volunteer Pro Premium Membership. This community is the most comprehensive resource for attracting, engaging, and supporting dedicated, high impact volunteer talent for your good cause. Volunteer Pro Premium Membership helps you build or renovate an effective what’s working now volunteer program with less stress and more joy so that you can ditch the overwhelm and confidently carry your vision forward. It is the only implementation of its kind that helps your organization build maturity across five phases of our proprietary system, the volunteer strategy success path. 

If you’re interested in learning more, visit volpro.net/join  

Okay. We’re back with my five phases of successful volunteer coordination. Phase three is grow engagement. Volunteer recruitment. And this is the phase that many people focus a lot of time and energy on. And, as well, they should. It’s using modern recruitment strategies to attract a diverse fan base of supporters. 

So, in this phase, you set goals for the number and kinds of volunteers you hope to engage and put in place an outreach and marketing system that can help you get there. You’ll specify the ideal volunteers you hope to mobilize, and we’ll develop a strategy to build a found base using online. and on land tactics to reach volunteers where they’re at and inspire them to take action. 

So really in GROW engagement, it’s not just about finding the latest tips or tricks. It’s really about putting together. A comprehensive recruitment strategy goes everywhere from identifying your target audience to developing messaging to reach that audience to delivering and sending that message out through the channels where your ideal volunteer can be found. 

So, it’s a system, right? It’s a system within a system. So, our volunteer strategy success path is very much a system and then within these, each of these phases, there are additional systems. So there’s systems within systems. I am a huge believer in systems. I think they are the superpower of voluntary coordination because they keep everybody on the same page. 

They give you standards to work toward and everybody understands what you’re doing. There are no secrets, there’s no people working in a corner, and nobody understands what they’re up to. It is a system that your organization, not only the volunteer coordinator, but your organization has agreed to, has decided that this is the way, this is the blueprint. 

So, I’m a big fan of our strategy success path. And of course, All of the systems that you create and the systems within the systems and the forms and the strategies and the policies and procedures, they’re all tailored to you and your organization’s needs. So, in Grow Engagement or Phase 3, some of the milestones that might help you get there are developing what we call volunteer personas. 

So, these are archetypes. of your ideal volunteers, so I recommend people don’t develop more than three at one time. I usually recommend people start with one. Who is that ideal persona? Who’s the imaginary archetype for the person you’re trying to reach? And then another milestone is a heart centered messaging platform, and that heart centered messaging platform. 

can help you and is written towards attracting that volunteer persona. And so, you keep that person in mind when you’re writing that messaging and then you’re more likely to attract them. The other thing is to think about where they can be found. Where do those kinds of people hang out? So that’s a little bit about the grow phase. 

Let’s move on to phase four, sustain involvement. This is about volunteer retention. Improving volunteer experience and retaining high impact volunteer talent. And so obviously, the better we can do at volunteer retention, the easier our volunteer recruitment is. First of all, we’re not having to backfill volunteer roles and positions and shifts because of high turnover, but also when there’s high satisfaction, there’s generally high retention and generally, really good word of mouth. Volunteers are sharing their experiences with their friends and colleagues, and they generally are recruiting people for you. So, there’s a lot of good reasons why volunteer retention is important. Also, you invest a tremendous amount of time and energy getting your volunteers up to speed on The kind of work they’re going to do for you and that training is worth something and if you have folks Turning over right after they finish training Then you’ve got a problem on your hands because you’re investing a lot of resource in Preparing volunteers, but that resource is not Bearing fruit, right? 

And so, we’ve got to make sure we’ve got a good strategy for retention. So, in this phase, you’ll take purposeful steps to retain volunteer talent and amplify the impact of their work. The more meaningful their work is, the more likely they are to be satisfied with it. This phase will include volunteer supervision and recognition activities. 

But it also includes your strategy for encouraging deeper commitment. So, understanding the volunteer point of view is key. Part of your success during this phase, so you also want to gather volunteer input and make decisions based on feedback that you collect in a purposeful way through surveys, polls, focus groups, interviews social media, monitoring, whatever you’re using to understand what’s going on. 

Your volunteers experience. So, there’s some milestones that you might include during this phase. One is a 360-degree volunteer appreciation plan. Now in the volunteer pro community we teach about this 360-degree volunteer appreciation plan, but it’s really about how volunteers are being appreciated by everyone in the organization. 

Again, not just their direct supervisor, not just the volunteer coordinator, how informal and formal recognition and acknowledgement of their work happening. So, we want to make sure we have a 360-degree volunteer appreciation plan. We also want to make sure we have employee training. on volunteer stewardship.  

Now this training, and I know a lot of people are working on this type of training, in fact, in April in the volunteer pro community, I’m going to be doing a half day bootcamp  on how to develop training for coworkers around volunteer engagement so that volunteer managers who are often So Those that are tasked with creating and developing this training, usually they’re not trained in instructional design. 

And so, I have a few tricks up my sleeve, also some strategies and frameworks for rapid prototyping of courses, how to evaluate your course or your training modules, how to choose the right learning objectives, that kind of thing. So, I’m going to share in that training, that half day training in April, a little bit about how I do instructional design, because again, most of our volunteer managers have not been trained in instructional design. 

They’re just. Pulling out the slide deck and creating slides, but you really do want to have some framework around it. So that employee training on volunteer stewardship I’ve trained on it in the past inside the community Now we’re going to delve in for a full half day. So, phase four sustaining involvement is not just about Volunteer appreciation. 

It also includes training our coworkers and employees of, of all stripes, all walks of life, not just those that are directly supervising volunteers about what it means to have volunteers in your organization and also. How they can contribute to a successful volunteer experience.  Our final phase is phase five, scale leadership. 

This is about ownership and impact. This is something that a lot of people don’t talk about very often. And it’s often left out of models for volunteer engagement. But I think it’s really important and it is one of the more advanced levels. So, if you’ve been working with volunteers for a while. This may be an area you want to work on, or it may just simply be for your organization, one of your strategic goals. 

So, let’s get into it. What, what does scale leadership look like? It’s about ownership and impact. It’s about purposeful leadership development and collaboration for sustainable impact. So, what does that mean? In this phase, you take steps to delegate and distribute responsibility throughout your team. If you are the volunteer coordinator or you have a volunteer services department, scaling is about duplicating or not duplicating effort and getting more people on the bus and moving forward. 

So scaling is really about making sure that there’s not just one. person responsible for everything because that person has only so many hours in the week. And so, if you want to scale beyond that, you’re going to continue to be limited by that person’s hours, productivity. It’s energy, resilience, et cetera, but when you spread out responsibility and you start to bring on leaders and teams and start to grow, when you can distribute that responsibility and accountability, you can build in more Deeper depths of resilience. 

You have a deeper bench. And so, as volunteer engagement grows at your agency, it’s impossible to keep tabs on everything. That’s where a trained and highly effective team of volunteer leaders and coworkers can help. So, it’s really about teamwork. Building leadership from within. So, you’ll also want to look outside your organization and develop mutually beneficial partnerships that can help you meet your goals. 

Whether it be around volunteer training, whether it be around volunteer recruitment.  So, scaling leadership is scaling leadership inside your organization, but it’s also looking for community partners that can help you. So, it’s also scaling influence by developing mutually. Beneficial relationships and partnerships and collaboration. 

So, in the scale phase, we’re also talking about collaboration as well as leadership development. There are a few different milestones. Again, in our full volunteer strategy success path we have multiple milestones for each phase. But I’m just giving you a couple ideas, so you get a sense of how this works. 

So, in scale leadership, A couple of milestones that we recommend, one is a volunteer leadership pipeline. So, you actually have a plan for growing volunteer talent. So, what is the journey that volunteers go through if they want to become a leader at your organization?  It shouldn’t just be random because random isn’t fair. 

And when you have a random leadership development process. Where it’s just, oh well, I just asked that person to lead. You can really run up against bias. So, you want to have a more standardized approach where you’re saying, you know what, if you’d like to be a leader at an organization, here are the things that, the minimum qualifications, here’s the training we’re going to provide. 

And you also, in your leadership development plan, want to be on the lookout for people with high potential. And you want to talk about what that means. So, it’s really about creating a more level playing field for volunteer leadership development and making sure that you’re engaging a variety of people in leadership roles so you can scale and it’s not just on one person’s head to get everything done.  

And then the other area in scaling leadership is change management. Because as you grow and scale, you’ll need to change. You’ll need to evolve as an organization. As you develop volunteer leaders, you need to let go of some of the centralized control and prepare and support people to be successful in their roles. 

Now that often stirs up a little bit of friction in an organization. So that’s why I included a change management strategy, which is basically an internal communication strategy that we train, and I train on inside the VolunteerPro community. That this is a milestone for this particular phase is really making sure that you have an internal communication strategy that is geared at removing resistance. 

Now, removing resistance isn’t always just about telling people how it is. It’s about gathering feedback. It’s about involving people in decision making. And when you do that, you bake in buy in for your changes going forward. So, there’s more to it than just telling people how it is.  Change management is about involving people in the process. 

So, I hope that’s been helpful. Again, our phases, just wanted to review our phases. Phase one is envisioning the future. Phase two is to build the foundation. Phase three is grow engagement. Phase four is sustain involvement and phase five is scale leadership. These are the five phases of our volunteer strategy success path. 

It’s what our, it’s the model for all of our curriculum, including our community membership curriculum. And events are live events. All of our training and tools are all built around this model. Our volunteer management fundamentals course is built along inside the course. It goes through each of these five phases. 

Even our volunteer recruitment boost camp is a drill down into one of these phases, the grow phase. So, it’s really interesting to have a model like this. I think it really helps us. We didn’t pull it out of thin air. It came from years of experience, but also looking at other skills and competency models around the world for volunteer coordination, but also what’s going to get the job done. 

You’ve got to have a blueprint for success. And we’re big fans of this volunteer strategy success path. So, I hope you found today’s episode helpful. If you’re interested in joining the community and actually getting in and rolling up your sleeves and starting to build out your strategy, we have a multitude of trainings. 

Videos, resources that can help you and of course our volunteer strategy success path guide that can help you quickly assess where you need to put some work in and what you’ve already got done because I’m sure you’ve got some things done as well. So, if you’re interested in building through these five phases and all three levels of maturity just visit volpro.net/join 

So that’s it for today. I want to thank you for joining me on this episode of the Volunteer Nation. I hope it’s given you some creative ways and a more comprehensive view of what volunteer coordination really looks like in today’s world. It is bigger than people realize. I think it’s almost too big for one person. 

I don’t know any other volunteer role or any role within an organization that includes so many diverse strategies and skill sets than volunteer coordination. So, hats off to you, those of you who are doing volunteer engagement in your organizations, and hats off to you for you executive leaders who are listening. 

I think it’s fantastic that you want to know more about this. And I think by understanding the breadth and scope of effective volunteer coordination, your organization is going to be better off for it. So, if you liked this episode, please feel free to share it with a friend. That’s how we get the word out and reach more people. 

And if you liked it, we would love it. If you would. give us a rating, maybe drop us a line, a comment, just scroll down and give us a five star.  I’d love to have that. All right, so have a fantastic rest of your day or evening or morning and we will see you next time, next week, same time, same place on The Volunteer Nation. 

Take care everybody.