Wednesday, May 26, 2010
How to Run a Volunteer Program
Volunteers are like full blown roses. They arrive with energy and expectations (perhaps inaccurate), but expectations none the less, that their time donated to you is valuable. They are somewhat overwhelming in their eagerness to help. They may only last a short time in this full bloom of volunteering if they get bored or realize they are only doing something tedious. Here are just a few basic rules that will keep your relationship with your volunteers running smoothly.
1) Have a consistent and clear schedule but be flexible because you are getting free help. Pretend that you think their time is valuable even if they are old retired farts.
2) Provide a tour of the facility and make sure you introduce and re-introduce staff over time. Us older folks cannot remember a name to save our life.
3) It might be a good idea to assign the volunteer to a specific staff person (and a back-up) so that they know who to go to when they get there each time. It is not courteous to have them stand around grinning at people until they catch someone's eye.
4) Be cheerful and start a small conversation each time they arrive so that they feel welcome. Don't act distracted even though you are busy, just two to three minutes of cheerful exchange should suffice. Whatever you do, do not give them the deer in the headlights look when they show up and then look around for someone else to help.
5) Always have something for them to work on. Try to fit the activity to their expertise and interests if at all possible. Do not waste their time by going around to other staff asking if they have anything to give the volunteer to do.
6) And the absolutely most important tip is if you do not need volunteers be honest about that. Take their name and phone number and tell them you may call them in the future. Do not feel guilty in turning them away. Women are particularly bad about this!
The advantages of volunteering in a library is you get to see all the new stuff first, you get to peruse the collection when you read shelves and it is amazing what libraries have today. You had forgotten, perhaps, that videos, CDs, DVDs, books, magazines, etc. are all for the checking and free! You have access to dozens of libraries via the interlibrary loan system, so chances are you will be able to get anything you want if you are patient.
Needless to say, my decision to help out at the local library which I began to do this winter is not working out as well as I had hoped. I encountered some of the issues I mentioned above. I also overlooked the fact that most of my work would involve moving books and re-shelving books and reading shelves for misplaced or lost books and other media. I told myself that this re-enforced my Dewey and alphabetical skills and strengthened my biceps and laterals. I tried to remember some yoga stretches and moves when I got up off the floor after reading the lowest shelves with my trifocals tilted for an extended time . I was somewhat limited in this yoga moves partnering as I did not want to scare the customers. I also found it necessary to stifle my groans as I tried to get up with books in hand. Most days I pretend that they really are happy to see me and a few of them are. But I if I do not like this as much as I hoped I guess I will be looking for a new volunteer activity in the future.
As a post script when a volunteer leaves you might want to ask them a few questions such as: 1) Will they be volunteering elsewhere? 2) What did they like about this volunteer experience? 3)What didn't they like?