The Secret Sauce: A Strong Staff/Volunteer Relationship

We train our volunteers to do volunteer tasks and our staff to do staff tasks. But do we connect the two? After all, they work in tandem to deliver the best value for members and the association. The truth is we don’t always supply our staff with the skills and knowledge they need to work with volunteers. Throw in a disconnect between what volunteers do and how staff perceive their value, and your volunteer program will suffer.

The importance of a strong staff-volunteer relationship is one of the key findings of the ASAE Foundation Report, A Holistic Approach to Volunteer Management. When staff and volunteers collaborate on the goals of the association (a passion that they all share), the outcomes improve. We know this. Yet, staff training on volunteer management best practices is an afterthought at best.

What’s more, the report shows that volunteer satisfaction is greatly influenced by the quality of association staff, including the level of support and receptiveness to ideas and recommendations staff offer to volunteers. Volunteers thrive under a supportive system; shouldn’t staff get the same support? The answer is yes!

“A key component of a holistic system is supporting and training staff to be effective partners with volunteers—that is a key piece of long-term sustainability”

— ASAE Foundation Holistic Approach to Association Volunteer Management

How do you know if training is needed? In her blog post about making smart investments in nonprofit staff development, volunteer engagement expert and master trainer Tobi Johnson points out that one of the five clues that show training may be needed is when staff feel they lack the right skills to do the job.

So, what could be done? Show your support by helping your staff develop the skills and knowledge they need to be successful. The right training can empower association staff who work closely with volunteers and volunteer groups by giving them the tools to be effective as champions of their volunteers. (Shameless plug – we’re hosting one.)

So, when developing a holistic volunteer management system, don’t overlook the importance of a well-trained and well-supported staff in the best practices of volunteer management. Investing in the right training and mentoring projects will lead your staff to be better prepared to serve as partners, rather than adversaries, to your association’s volunteers.

If you’re not sure whether you need to make a change, here are two questions to explore from the process model for an effective volunteer system outlined in 2023 research:

  • Are we supporting volunteers and staff to have effective relationships and the best experience?
  • Are we making effective use of volunteer and staff time?

Unfortunately for many of us, the answers are probably not enough.


Upcoming Event

Decoding the Volunteer Liaison Role … in Two Parts: Join us for a two-part learning experience where you will gain the skills and confidence in working with volunteers. The program consists of two sessions: a virtual basics course (6/25) on being a volunteer liaison and an advanced course (7/10) where we will work through scenarios and cases to enhance skill development. Best of all, you can choose to take the virtual basics course only or the full 2-part program.