Change is perhaps one of the thorniest issues to navigate with volunteers. Since they are not employees, they typically do not have a say or an inside look at what’s happening in the organization. But since they do “work” for you, they are not as removed as the general public or those who receive your services. And so volunteers exist in a type of limbo between the public and your employees.
Obviously some changes will not worry your volunteers as much as others. It’s typically a change in policy or program that touches directly ontheir spheres of influence. It is important to evaluate the impact of change within your organization on your volunteer core. It is crucial to make sure that your volunteers are on board as you move forward into new times.
The squeaky wheels are one of the first groups to address when negotiating change. Seek them out personally if possible, give them the inside scoop, and, when practicle, give them an out. For example, if your organization is adopting a postage meter machine, but a few volunteers will not be comfortable using it, give them the option to use the regular stick-on stamps. If no one makes a fuss about the changes, no one may notice them. Once someone raises doubts and concerns, a breeding ground for concerns and gripes may be fostered.
Once you’ve sought out the squeaky wheels and have provided alternatives for them, it is time to break the news gradually. Employ a number of different means, at least five, to communicate the changes. Here are a few ideas: newsletter, web site, e-mail, post card, letter, telephone call, weekly bulletin, word of mouth through other employees/volunteers. If you say it in five different ways, then you are most likely to connect with everyone. Give yourself some time to provide a period for questions and concerns, and then make sure there is time to respond sufficiently.
One of the best ways to negotiate change is through orientation and training for the new program or technology you are using. These don’t have to be boring events with low attendance. Ask around your town for small donations of food and snacks. Give the volunteers some social time to hang out and make an event of it. Weave the training into the event for a short period of time. It’s like combining a visit to the dentist with a cocktail party. Just make sure their time in the chair is not too long and that you do not drill them too hard! I recommend keeping the training to about 20 minutes if possible.
Make yourself available for refreshers and for assistance during their shifts. If you can’t be there, make sure a staff member is knowledgable enough to assist them with any concerns or hang ups. Training may have to be an ongoing task in order to be completely effective.
In the end you may lose a few volunteers, but there is no reason why you cannot make a time of change and transition a time to improve communication and training.
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