Frankly, this is the easiest and most rewarding part of the job. Because we are an affluent culture with roots in Christian notions of responsibility, many people have the discretionary time and motivation to volunteer. But in the beginning, one must target the search: churches, civic organizations, organizations for retired folks. Eventually, I connected with the local university and their fraternal organizations as well as the local alternate sentencing organization which provides court mandated community service hours to minor offenders.
The university students brought energy, joyful youth, but few skills. They were great for demolition work, landscaping, and material handling.
The retired people were often skilled, careful in their work, and willing to take their time.
With time and a bit of PR work, retired trades persons will eventually volunteer. They are gold. They have skills, tools, knowledge, and they can mentor less skilled volunteers.
Regardless of the classification of volunteer, the project manager must get to know the volunteer’s capability and assign appropriate work.
So, let’s look at a typical volunteer workday.
You have let the volunteers know that you begin the day at 8:00, or whatever time works for you. Do not make showing up at 8:00 a requirement. The volunteers can come whenever their personal schedule allows, but they should know that YOU will be there at 8:00.
YOU must be there earlier than that. Your task is to get the tools out, enough for the number of volunteers anticipated, have the job site in reasonable order, and have the sign-in sheet on a small table near the entrance to the project. This sign-in sheet is essential. Each volunteer must sign in and provide their email address. More about that later.
As a volunteer arrives, tell them to sign in, assign the appropriate job, provide tools, demonstrate if necessary, and let them know that you will return shortly to check on them.
Then repeat the process with the next volunteer.
Once the critical number of volunteers are present, the project manager’s job is to check on the assigned tasks, find ways to praise the work, provide constructive criticism, and figure out a way to laugh with the volunteer about something. Always thank the volunteer for his or her efforts.
At the midpoint of the work session (My pattern is to work from 8:00 am until about 1:00 pm, so the midpoint is mid-morning.), announce “Break time,” gather everybody in the largest room, provide coffee and donuts, and have a chance to talk. If the group is full of first-time volunteers, use a cheesy ice breaker (“Tell me something unique about you.”). After all have introduced themselves, explain the mission of the project and offer to answer any questions. Then go back to work.
As people let you know they are leaving, thank them and let them know when the next session will be. Check their work.
Occasionally, a volunteer will be incompetent at an assigned task. That is the project manager’s fault and his or her responsibility to fix. I have occasionally ripped out a volunteer’s work AFTER they have left the site and redone the work. At the next opportunity, the manager must assign the appropriate task. There is always clean-up work.
At the end of the work session, I take the clipboard with the names and email addresses and once a week write an “Update” on the project. This update will contain a summary of what was accomplished, who was present, the work schedule and tasks for the next week, and a funny anecdote about the workday. Always include the job site address.
This “Update” is the opportunity to thank and praise the volunteers and encourage them to return.
I email the “Update” to everybody who has ever volunteered.