- by Jon Devin
Most non-profit volunteer managers would agree that their job titles are far more all-encompassing than one would guess at first glance. For some it’s more like volunteer- recruitment- recognition- training- media- fundraising- database- manager. It’s a job known for low pay and high turnover despite the non-monetary reward of helping people. One Memphis group though, hopes to make volunteer management more staff-friendly by networking and providing resources.
Directors of Volunteers in Agencies (DOVIA) gives area volunteer managers a great forum for idea-sharing, according to its current president Barbara Dawson, herself a program manager for Memphis City Schools’ volunteer tutoring program, Our Children, Our Future.
“Our mission is to provide volunteer managers with networking opportunities and monthly educational opportunities that help non-profit volunteer managers learn more about what agencies are doing,” Dawson said. “It’s rare to find a volunteer manager that that’s all they do. They all have lots of hats to wear and lots of responsibilities to keep up with.”
DOVIA meets every other month at a different member’s location usually over a brown bag lunch. There are currently 49 member agencies and attendance at each meeting is about 30 people. Members comes from the largest organizations in Memphis like St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to smaller groups like the Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). DOVIA is all volunteer and supports itself by holding door prize drawings and occasionally special workshops.
Jeana Bailey, volunteer manager for the Mid-South Chapter of the Red Cross, serves as DOVIA’s membership chair. She says the main challenge volunteer managers face in doing their work is a decided lack of resources.
“There just aren’t a lot of resources out there for volunteer managers,” she said. “And most of the time the volunteer managers are the only ones in the organization doing that particular job so they don’t have someone in-house who knows how to do it. That’s what this organization tries to supply. The networking process really helps people understand best practices and gets their questions answered.”
And questions abound with new volunteer managers. How do you handle a volunteer who isn’t responsible? How do you find all of the volunteers you need for your program? How do you throw a volunteer recognition event with little to no budget? How do you get the media to pay attention to your program?
Kevin Dean, community services manager for Volunteer Memphis and DOVIA vice president, says the group comes up with some pretty creative programming to answer those and other questions.
“Not too long ago we had Dolores Bell, a former employee of Memphis City Schools, teach a workshop about how to write a moving special interest article about a volunteer program,” he said. “Also Jeana led a workshop called Resources You Never Knew Existed along with Audrey May from the library system and Ashley Harper of Hands On Memphis. Other great workshops we’ve had were about connecting with senior volunteers, teen volunteering, and our favorite, the most outrageous moments of volunteer managing.”
The most outrageous moments included real-life scenarios such as when a volunteer was arrested after being seen on television in a volunteer capacity. He had been evading arrest for some time unbeknownst to the volunteer agency he served.
Bailey added, “Time management is another area of concern because volunteer managing is such a big job. It’s so hard to stay on top of all the little details. I think sometimes that staff recognition, development, and support within the organization sometimes are also issues.”
The average Memphian may not realize the extent of the impact that volunteers have on communities in the Mid-South, but for DOVIA members it couldn’t be clearer that Memphis would suffer a major loss of services without successful volunteerism.
Says Dean, “Board members are volunteers too so volunteers are effectively running the non-profit organizations of Memphis. A volunteer’s hour saves the agency $18.77 right now, so multiply that amount time the thousands of volunteers in Memphis and you come up with a figure that Memphis as a community cannot supply on its own. It’s millions of dollars toward staff time and distribution of services. Volunteers are really keeping all the doors open.”
But aren’t non-profits technically competing against each other for volunteers? Bailey was quick to say that the benefits of inter-agency cooperation far out-way the risk of going it alone.
“I think that there is competition to the point that your program has to have something that stands out about it, but if you’re not professionally managing your volunteers, your people are going to go elsewhere. I don’t see situations arising in which one agency actually takes volunteers away from another agency. I think that if you’re managing volunteers professionally and presenting your cause in a passionate way, then the volunteers will come. There are enough volunteers to go around and we all improve by helping each other,” Bailey said.
Dawson explained that DOVIA is always glad to find new members from non-profits, civic groups, government offices, schools, and even churches. The group recruits new members mostly by word of mouth, but also with the help of Volunteer Memphis’s email newsletter.
“I think almost everyone has an “aha” moment when they’re new,” said Dean. “Especially the brand new volunteer coordinators who’ve not worked in this area before—just to think ‘I don’t have to reinvent the wheel, I’m not an island’—they can see that the job is not impossible.”