This morning, an email arrived from a volunteer manager I’ve known for many years, and she shared this request:

I’m reaching out to see if you have any simple resources that I can use during a team meeting to do a little training/informational session on working with volunteers and the importance of building relationships/planning for them to be here to work? I’m “crashing” a team meeting to try to inspire our team that works closely with volunteers and appreciate any direction you might have!

I immediately thought about the trend we’ve have been watching and supporting in recent years to shift from lengthy volunteer engagement workshops for staff partners to instead what we call, “mini-trainings.” Mini-trainings are 20-30 minute sessions designed to provide a very specific tool or concept. Often these sessions are conducted on the participants’ turf, so to speak — like “crashing” their department meeting (with permission, of course!). In other words, going to meet your colleagues where they are, both literally and figuratively, instead of waiting for them to come to you. An effective tactic in persuasion and influence. Fortunately, we have a guide to developing Mini-Trainings, which I shared with this colleague.

She also asked about ideas to get colleagues on board with building relationships and setting volunteers up for success. Are you facing similar challenges? If so, you may want to check out the resources and suggestions I shared:

  • When working to persuade others to embrace volunteer engagement, check out this tool kit on being a good internal partner with colleagues. It includes a step by step process to increase your influence and build meaningful partnerships with staff across the organization.
  • When talking to staff about setting volunteers up for success, consider sharing these six building blocks to success:
    1. Strategic Roles – Is the position well thought out and appropriately designed? Is it impactful and can you (and the volunteers) articulate the difference they will make by engaging in this way?
    2. Thorough Screening & Thoughtful Placement – What is the role that staff members play in screening? Do they know how selection decisions are made? Do they have input into selection criteria?
    3. Clear Expectations – Who is responsible for onboarding? What components of that are handled by the volunteer coordinator vs. the staff supervisor? Is everyone (volunteers included) clear on the expectations?
    4. Sufficient Training – Who is responsible for training volunteers? Again, what components of training are handled by the volunteer coordinator vs the staff supervisors? How can you support them in training volunteers? What role can other volunteers play in mentoring newbies, etc.?
    5. Checking Progress – What time have staff partners set aside to check the volunteers’ progress? What role will the volunteer coordinator play in checking in and providing support? What role can other volunteers play as well? Does everyone know the process for addressing problems?
    6. Ongoing Feedback – What time have staff set aside to provide feedback (positive or negative)? Do they understand their role in feedback and recognition? Would staff benefit from training on providing effective feedback?

One of my favorite phrases is, “Without expectations there can be no accountability.” In other words, investing time on relationship building and expectation setting is time well spent. Without doing so, you can’t hold a volunteer accountable because they can’t be held to expectations about which they are unaware! This starts with staff partners who understand what is expected of them. You can help build that accountability by designing and delivering mini-trainings on topics like this and modeling how to build effective relationships by doing so with your colleagues first, so they can then do the same with volunteers who serve in their departments.