A guide to managing volunteers.

Volunteers are the key to success in any political campaign or charity. It might seem easy to recruit people in this job market but it can be very challenging to keep them involved and motivated for a long time.

I have been volunteering for a number of years in various organisations and then I spent a year managing volunteers full-time. I would like to share some tips on how to do that successfully, be it in politics or the Third Sector.


Make volunteers feel appreciated

Its very important to remember that people don’t get paid for this so they should always feel that you are grateful for their work. I learnt that from Bill Townsend who was an agent in Oxford East campaign. He was so good at it, people were coming back to help again and again.


Help volunteers to develop their skills

Volunteers are giving up their time and you should make sure that what they are doing is helpful to their career as well as your organisation. If someone is doing well, offer them more responsibilities. It is encouraging, motivating and can help their CV.


Be realistic.

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. It is very easy to get excited in the voluntary sector because you get to work with so many talented and dedicated people and anything seems possible. Take funds, timeframe and manpower into account before promising anything as it can disappoint and damage your credibility.


Manage your own time

In Centre for Europe my workload was crazy and it was not unusual to see over hundred emails in my inbox when I woke up. I sometimes would work 15 hours a day without weekends and then have to take a week off because I was too exhausted. The performance goes down, e-mails go unanswered, volunteers don’t hear back on their progress, they quit and projects dont get done..

It is easily avoided by managing your workload – so every day you work for about 8 hours and then do whatever it is you do in your spare time. This way you don’t burn yourself out and don’t mess up the projects – it is better to reply to someone in a weeks time than not at all. Same applies before elections – by all means work 20 hours a day a week before the election but don’t make yourself ill months before. It is not productive to anyone.


Manage expectations

If you promise people to reply to an e-mail or have 5000 leaflets ready within 24 hours and then don’t – well, that’s not very good. However, if you promise to get back within, say, a week then it gives you plenty of time to do that and no one gets anxious waiting.


Hold people to account and a high standard.

If you don’t like the outcome of someone’s work, it is not rude to tell them so. They benefit from learning how to do it better and don’t appreciate being treated like children. Always be polite and tactful though.


Know everyone’s availability.

If someone said they are busy on Monday evenings, make sure you have a note of it and don’t call them and ask them to do things at that time. It can be very annoying and can put people off. There is plenty of software available for managing this but a simple Excel spreadsheet can do.


Welcome ideas.

Listening to lots of different ideas can lead to something very productive. Also it feels great to see your idea being implemented and getting credit for it! It is not necessary to take everything on board (you can’t please everyone) but ask for opinions and listen.


Be honest and professional.

I believe that it takes people a long way.


Make sure that you understand priorities.

I always told my volunteers that their work and studies should take priority. So I was aware of their deadlines and worked around that. Winning the election or finishing the project might be the most important thing in your life but it is not necessarily in everybody else’s. It is important to respect that.


If you have a great inspiring cause and follow these tips, you can have a very good relationship with your team and achieve excellent results. Good luck!


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