How Will COVID 19 Impact Volunteer Management? Interview With Lori Gotlieb

Lori Gotlieb Volunteer management

Today on Fundraising Superheroes we speak with special guest Lori Gotlieb on how the pandemic is impacting the management of our volunteers and how can we do better by our volunteer programs?
Lori is a prolific author on volunteer management best practices, contributing to the Volunteer Management Handbook, 2nd Edition. She was a recipient of the Linda Buchanan Award for Excellence in Volunteer Management and built and taught Humber’s Volunteer Management and Leadership Program
As we discuss in today's episode, volunteer management is so much more than the process of coordinating volunteers within a schedule, it's about collaborating and finding creative ways to support your nonprofit. When you nourish and "bring out the natural glow" of your volunteers you are supporting them to bring out their full potential. 
Official Transcript: 

Sabrina: Hello and welcome to the Fundraising Superheroes podcast, a video podcast this week, we're dedicated to celebrating non-profit organizations and all the people that work to make the world a better place. As always, I'm your host, Sabrina Sciscente and this show is brought to you by Donor Engine. An all-in-one nonprofit management software built to help you manage volunteers, team, donor data you can visit to learn more

Volunteers are the backbone of any organization. They give their time and expertise to help move your mission forward, especially during the pandemic. People are joining together to help each other. We're seeing people donate their sewing skills, donate their time offering to run errands for the elderly who are at high risk. The culture of giving is going strong and people are eager to lend a helping hand. But as organizations slowly begin to open their doors, there's still a lot to talk about surrounding volunteer coordination.

How can nonprofits be more efficient and effective with their volunteer management? If this is something on your mind, then you're in luck because we have Lori Gotlieb joining us on the show today. Lori is not just a volunteer consultant, she is the volunteer consultants. Lori is a contributing author to the Volunteer Management Handbook, Second Edition, as well as having numerous articles published in both print and online she was a recipient of the Linda Buchanan Award for Excellence in Volunteer Management.

In addition to all of the above, she also built and taught Humber's volunteer management and leadership programs., so you guys are going to get some good information today. Lori continues to push the boundaries of traditional volunteer management through writing and teaching. So I am so thrilled to have her on the show. Thank you, Lori, for being here. 

Lori: Thank you Sabrina, happy to be here. 

Sabrina: So this pandemic has been going on for about three months now. What has surprise you about the way nonprofits has been managing their volunteers during this time?

Lori: So my first thought is how quickly the volunteer programs have been able to move. On a positive side, volunteerism has come to the forefront of what nonprofits need to do to respond quickly to their clients, their members and stakeholders. And the volunteer program themselves have been able to move very quickly into responding from an emergency perspective without dealing with processes, without without the stopgap. Volunteers and volunteer program now have that kind of lens to it that people are looking at it.

There's new roles that are happening that hadn't happened before. Every week I see something different in terms of how volunteers are getting involved, whether that's organically or you have a community group that has formed a Facebook page and it's people helping people volunteering wise or whether it's organizations that have flipped to look at look after their vulnerable populations by moving from, you know, in person to virtual. The reality of having new roles move so quickly, it's been a really positive thing because volunteer programs historically have moved at a very slow pace, very focused on risk management and processes.

More people want to help. There is a huge group of people from all over the world that want to help out, and that organic volunteering is happening again. I mean, volunteerism as a whole starts and has always started at neighbour helping neighbour, which then grows into an organizational plan and an organizational tree and so forth. So, you know, in terms of the positive side, there's just been a real focus on how volunteers can help out, because the fact is, staff weren't going into the office. When organizations closed that, you know, in some cases programs just stopped and staff had to focus on their own health, their own issues, especially, those who are vulnerable.

So they look to volunteers very quickly on how you can fill in the gap. What can we do to make sure that our clients are safe? I mean, I myself got some calls from my local religious membership that I belong in just from somebody saying, how are you? Now, there's a negative side to what happened, and this is a find that kind of makes me a little bit sad. People got let go.

And so when volunteerism is at its highest need, volunteer coordinators were laid off. And, you know, I'll do this "I don't get it"  right. I don't think I ever will. You know, the economic cycle tends to be when there's a recession and there's less staff, there's more need for volunteers. So on the negative side, why would you let go your conductor of your volunteer program?

The other problem. You know, the other issue that came up is ways to engage the volunteers that that keep them involved, keep them engaged, because there are a lot of volunteers that couldn't go into their organizations anymore. They themselves were vulnerable. So how do you keep those volunteers engaged? Because volunteers just kind of- there was no communication. You know, you went from volunteering to hearing a radio silence. So that was a bit of an issue.

And the concern that there's going to be a second wave and what that's going to look like. So we may have volunteers that don't want to return. So volunteer programs are going to have to look at how they're going to pivot. But, you know, overall, it's that that pandemic brought out that natural need for people to want to help. And for a nonprofit actually embracing the help where they normally would have said, OK, here's the process, I can take 3 months. You know, all these things have to happen. Risk management, risk management, risk management that the nonprofit embraced, that the community wanted to get involved. And this is why you're seeing all kinds of new rules happening. And really interesting and creative ways to volunteer.

Sabrina: Yes, I think one of the really interesting things I've seen is how people have created their own volunteer opportunities beyond organizations exactly like you were explaining. Like on my town's Facebook group, people are like, I made "X" amount of masks. Who needs them? They may deliver. So the fact that this is the first time I heard about volunteer coordinators being let go boggles my mind, because although people are being let go, that means they have an abundance of time that they can now get back to their community.

Lori: So, I mean, I think part about, you know, I don't I don't want to take the stage and say that, you know, go all negative on into the not for profit thinking, you know, part of it is just a lot of stuff like go. But I do- I've always felt that voluntary programs are vulnerable. And anybody that knows me knows that the biggest challenge for administrators of volunteers is to get their voice heard.

And that is really key. You know, if they can if they can show what the value is of what they're doing, then you know, ideally they're not they should not be at risk of being let go because they're the ones that are managing, you know, anywhere from fifty to five hundred volunteers. But the reality is when you have you have a volunteer program that's working well, there is always that possibility that, well, it can self sustain itself.

So it is the reality I've seen it happen and I've been around long enough in this cycle, happen over and over again. And then what happens is we come out of the pandemic is like, OK, now we have to rebuild the volunteer program. How we're going to do it. Right. 

Sabrina: So how do organizations, when they want to start rebuilding that program, when they want to start reaching out to volunteers, how do they look and find volunteers that will best suit the positions that they need filled?

What can they do to communicate that they're providing a safe work environment for them as well?

Lori: Well, I think the volunteer program first will have to take a step back. So there's two things that are happening at the same time. So there is this emergency volunteer corps. We'll call it that right now. So you've got volunteers that are  virtually friendly visiting, that are doing health check ins, that are doing mentorships. Some positions, have easily converted to virtual. So right now, very few people are going into the physical location. But what's going to happen?

And again, I don't have the I don't have the the the the magic ball on this one either. But I'm going to take a guess, and my guess is there's going to be a hybrid. That as organizations start to open up, there'll be some volunteers and will be allowed to go back in and some volunteers that will not be allowed to go back in, there'll be some volunteers that won't want to go back in and some volunteers that want to go back in but are maybe just looking at short term now. So there's a lot of balls in the air, so to speak. 

So volunteer programs are going to have to, before they even go out looking for volunteers, take a step back, because like I said to the first reaction was get volunteers out there. We don't care about policy procedures. You know, it's health and safety first, obviously. But we're not going to worry about, so heavily the screening and the interview process and all those types of things. That we'll have to start to sit back a little bit, because depending on the level of vulnerability, you're going to have to put some things in place.

You're going to have a bit of a hybrid. So voluntary programs are going to have to do two things. One, take a step back and look at what does the future look like in the next year and two years. So let's call it pre-vaccine, post-vaccine. However, where you want to do this and what can we bridge that is new and unique and can easily be prevented if we have a second wave, if there is a shutdown again in the organization so that we don't completely shut our doors. But in the same respect, start to build a different kind of volunteer program using the volunteer management best practices. So I'm a firm believer, you know, teaching the Humber program and, you know, teaching in my webinars and the presentations, that voluntary management cycle, which is basically, you know, the foundation of best practices still have to come into place. But we also have to look at that and make adjustments according to policies and procedures are going to change a little bit.
Health and safety, you know, those are going to follow from the top down. So, we always in volunteer programs, we look at risk. So we're in are in a good position in terms of always weighing risk, benefit. Trained administrative volunteers know to do that. Where you get into the difficult side is exactly what you said at the beginning, these organic groups.

So they're great in the in the short term, right. But as they grow and as things become a little bit more long term, that organic group of community helping community is going to have to look at the risk factors too because at some point somebody may take advantage of something or they may, you know, do something you're not supposed to be doing. So that is that's why these organic community organizations, helping organizations don't really look at the risk factors because they're looking at the benefit factors where the volunteer programs are going to have to weigh both and build almost like a two tiered volunteer program. 

There are new ways to engage volunteers, there's so much. I'm so excited in some ways as to the ways people can volunteer. You know, the technology has given us a step up that organizations have always fought. So I know in the many years that I've worked as running volunteer programs, one of the biggest challenges in technology is not for profit don't really invest in the technology side.

There are limited budgets. Well, now there's the flip. So we're going to have to look at how technology works better for us, better for volunteer programs, better communication between volunteers and staff, volunteers to volunteer and volunteers to clients. So I think there's a lot of really interesting positions that can happen, including skills development, skill teaching. So I think there's a lot of potentially fantastic volunteer positions that are going to grow naturally out of this. High skilled volunteer positions that we didn't have access to before, things such as, like I mentioned before, check-ins. You know, virtual check-in, virtual friendships, opportunities to learn skills and volunteers that you couldn't do before because either there was no space in the building or if they didn't have the resources or tools to do that.

Even special events are going virtual and volunteers are starting to get engaged in that because that's a big issue. The fundraising, as you know, is going to have a huge shift in how those programs are run. And I'm seeing some, again, some really interesting things that are starting to happen. There's going to be a need for flexibility. So the program and the organization are going to have to be a little more flexible. There needs to be a way to engage students in a better way, because over the next couple of years, students are going to do this hybrid kind of learning.

So there's some opportunities to do that. We're going to have to look at risks that look at it quickly. The volunteer programs and the administrators of volunteers are going to have to figure out ways to get to the table, to be creative, and they're going to be the seat of creativity. I think that a successful volunteer program in the new normal is going to be where volunteers and and volunteer management staff are coming up with creative ways to engage their stakeholders in a fast moving environment.

Sabrina: So do you think instead of volunteer programs being kind of like the volunteer coordinator and then the volunteers like a pyramid, it's going to be more of a collaborative model. So like the volunteers are almost helping the coordinators find positions for them. They're like, I have these skills, let me do this.

Lori: Yes. So I've always been a huge advocate for volunteer programs using working with volunteers to help them run better programs. And that is always, you know, it's an interesting question that you pose, because there was always been this kind of pyramid thinking where what happens is the volunteer coordinator is so overworked and doesn't have time to actually build that creative side. They are so built in the process. So, you know, you make a good point.

And I've always been a huge part cheerleader for engaging your volunteers. And I'm not just talking committee and board work, but engaging your volunteers in helping you run a better volunteer program, because there's never going to be humongous amount of staff in the volunteer program will always be one, two, you know, at the most part three in large organizations like hospitals. It's normally run by one person. If you're lucky, it's two people. So, absolutely. Why can't volunteers train other volunteers?

We're going to look at training and a whole a model. We're not going to have people coming into the building to do orientation. Training, health and safety, pandemic preparedness whenever it comes down. And whenever the protocols are for that organization are going to have to be delivered virtually. So why can't the volunteer even develop the program? I mean, once I had an H.R. volunteer who came in to do something else, but while having that conversation with them, I recognized that he had skill set in a an employee relations side of it.

So I actually approached it to him as to would you consider, you know, looking at helping our staff. And he built a series of educational modules. So volunteer coordinators are going to have to look to who they have and bring out the best in who they are, bring out that natural glow of what volunteers can do and engage in that way to get them to help because it's going to be trying time for the next little while. It really is.

Sabrina: Oh, definitely. And going off, you know, volunteers usually are so passionate. You know, they're giving up their time to help your organization. How can organizations help them in terms of finding and helping them with burnout? Because I know right now a lot of people want to do everything they can to help, and it gets hard. It can get overwhelming. So how can organizations create those boundaries and assist when they can?

Lori: So good question. Burnout is always been a balance between creating the appropriate role description and ensuring that the volunteers have a voice in that and also feel confident, comfortable enough to say, I can't do all of it. So it starts with the role description. So we go back into that kind of slippery slope where I ask a busy person to do something. It comes back down to best practices in managing a volunteer program. So recognizing what will need to happen, who is the best person for those roles and ensuring that they're not either being burnt out and there are ways to recognize that, give them permission to say I need a break. So you know, maybe it's looking at two or three people doing the same role and then taking shifts.

You know, it's a little bit of trust that has to be built within the volunteer and the staff . They really both have to have permission. And I and I believe that the volunteers are, you know, want to help out. But they also have their own motivational factor, too. There's a series of things happening here. Right. Some people are now looking for work. Some people are looking to change the skills.

Students who are looking to get more education. So there are lots of ways that volunteer programs can help with that burnout. Whether that's focusing on shifts, on shifts off, whether that's giving them the opportunity to provide feedback and see how they feel on this. And I think that we're really key thing right now. As we shift into a new dynamic of volunteer positions you need to get the feedback from your from your volunteers on how it's working and what could be better and how volunteer programs can support their volunteers and their clients and their staff.

But, you know, permission to have burnout is is a relationship situation and not depending on- and that's why having professional volunteer coordinators on, you know, coaching and leading those teams is important, because when you get more into the organic volunteer helping volunteer, there's a lot of burnout there, too, because people just want to get it done. So it's that core group of people that will do everything and the other people will not. So volunteers need to feel comfortable asking other volunteers to help.

And not taken on, you know, it's easy for me to do it myself, because, yes, eventually that's burnout. But that's really you know, that's the fundamentals of volunteer management.

Sabrina: Yeah, it's really hard in that collaborative model. 

Lori: Yeah, and where does social media fit into this also. So that's a big deal that that needs to be rethought, repurposed, innovative it's how our volunteer program is going to use social media in the right way. Because what's happening now, we're also getting social media overload. So now it's turning into ads and ads and ads and ads, selling and selling and selling and selling. So the message is are all getting messed up.

You know, if you look at your Facebook page now, how do you get out what you need to get out in terms of recruitment, in terms of messaging and communication and the same thing with volunteer, those organizational Web sites for both fundraising and volunteering is looking at how they can be used as positive recruiters. Or helping with the matching process. But that's another area that needs to be looked at. Is that whole social media space and how volunteer programs are going to do use this, to their advantage, to both recruit volunteers that support volunteers.

Sabrina: Definitely. What are some tools and resources that can help nonprofits do that, you know, create better volunteer programs? And from your experience, what is one thing you hope to see them do moving forward? 

Lori: I’m. I think that volunteer programs need to build on their success. So let's start there, you know. No, you do not need to reinvent the wheel. Maybe you're just getting a little bit. I think volunteer program volunteer coordinators need to ask people. You need to start having those conversations as to where do you see your gaps in the next three months, six months, one year? Where can volunteers help out? 

I think that in terms of a tool and a resource, I think a plan has to be created. Right now, everybody's in reaction mode. And I get that. But that can't be sustained. So that new goal, look at the tools that you have right now, use technology to your benefit, because that's probably the most stable thing we're going to have over the next couple years in terms of teaching, educating, communicating and supporting.

I think that the in out of buildings, you know, the physical stuff may be an issue because it's an unknown for us. So the one thing that's not an unknown to us is how you use technology and how to use platforms like I mean, look at weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs, family gatherings are being used successfully done through technological platforms. I think that volunteer programs need to redesign some of the role and look at the risks involved in those.

So that's the key thing. Mentorship programs, regular check ins with their volunteers. So these are all tools and resources that they can be using. But they have to do the strategic planning too. I think it's going to be a really key thing where you're identifying the risk, but you're also identifying the opportunities. You know, a little bit of a SWOT analysis is not a bad thing right now really it really is not you know. 

A lot of volunteer programs, when I teach courses, I teach my strategic planning course, the volunteer program, and I go SWOT and test and they go, yeah, yeah, now's the time. You got to know where. What's the low hanging fruit and what you can pivot easily. And once the staff pick those couple of goals that are really important, where you can see yourself driving in these new volunteer potential opportunities and go with it. But knowing that there's a bit of an unknown.

Right. Because we could get shut down again at any time. 

Sabrina: Oh, yeah, we have no idea. 

Lori: Right. You have no idea. So, you know, do things that can sustain themselves in either model. A face to face model or also on an online model and look at the policies and procedures. So there is a risk by the amount of time to find the tools and resource perspectives. You're going to have to look at what the risks are and you may have to rebuild your orientation training program.

But the one thing is you don't need to reinvent the wheel. Collaboration, like you said, organizations can be collaborating together too.

Sabrina: So before we go today, I'd love to know how you feel. This pandemic can be used as an opportunity and really be used as a way to kind of pause and for people to re-evaluate their programs. And how do you feel that volunteer programs during the pandemic will change? 

Lori: You know, I'm hesitant when I say the word opportunity, I think that what's going on is just even I know the days that I shake my head and go, I can't believe it. I think that volunteer program have an opportunity here to move quicker than they normally have, engage people who have skills and talents and are willing to help in ways that they never were before.

I think that it's an opportunity to bring some of our best practices into the 21st century. Which means embracing technology and embracing the value that volunteers can bring in. And I'll give you an example, you know, there's this argument that you go to volunteer to an organization and they say, well, here are the 10 things that we have to offer. Pick one. This is a menu item. I think the pandemic has brought an opportunity to throw out the menu and create custom made volunteer work. 

And so whether it's teaching a virtual art and crafts or using volunteers to create digital content or translating content into a variety of languages- I can go on for hours on unique volunteer opportunities. So my my final say on it is how do I feel like the positive side of this is that there's opportunities for voluntary programs to grow and where volunteers are not just going to enhance the program, enhanced organizations, they work for that actually help and leading into a new way.

There's going to be challenges with that. And like I said, you know, my final thought is, is that we have to think positively. The volunteer coordinators or I keep going back and forth administrative volunteers to volunteer coordinator have to be their own advocates. And I think you'll find the same thing in your fundraising world. They have to show  the numbers, create measures of success, show the value.

I'm hoping that, you know, in recognition of that and the unique experiences that the volunteer programs will be able to get at that leadership table. That is my goal. The volunteer program, to be part of the planning and not the response.

Sabrina: That’s a great answer. And with that thank you so much, Lori, for joining us on the show. For those listening, Lori has a ton of webinars and resources available for you to learn more about volunteer management. I cannot stress enough. If you are looking to improve your volunteer programs, you need to check these out. She will be presenting at the 2020 Volunteer Management Hybrid Conference and that is running October 20th to 21st this year.

All of that is linked in my description box. So if you want to learn more about that, get tickets, hat's the place to go. You can also reach her at LoriGotlibConsulting.wordpress. com. Again, that is also in the description box for help and consulting. 

Thank you so much for watching and we'll see you next time on Fundraising Superheroes!


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