You’ve just learned that a key leadership position has been filled by a highly qualified volunteer. You will be the person working closest with this volunteer. This volunteer will play a critical role in not only the success of the nonprofit, but in your success as well.
What is the single most important thing you can do to ensure that success occurs?
Regardless of whether or not you played a role in recruiting that volunteer, your best chance of getting off on the right foot is to schedule a sixty minute appointment with this volunteer. Depending upon your circumstances and your nonprofit’s culture, you may want to bring along another volunteer with you, perhaps the person this new volunteer reports to in your chain of command (if you’re the staff person).
There are many reasons why you should hold this meeting, but the single best reason is to be sure that the volunteer completely understands your role and responsibilities and what you can and cannot do when working with that volunteer. Failure to clarify your role risks getting your relationship off on the wrong foot leading to misunderstandings, personality conflicts, communication failures all which can snatch failure from the jaws of success.
Can you skip this meeting if the person is a long time volunteer within your organization?
No. But the visit may be shortened since you won’t have to go into as much detail about your mission and staff model. Even a long time volunteer can operate under misconceptions about her role or your role. Make no assumptions!
Couldn’t this meeting be a part of the recruitment call?
No. One is a sales call, the other falls into the category of “training/orientation.” They have two totally different purposes. If you walk into a recruitment call with the 3-ring binder assembled by last year’s chair, the prospect is likely to take one look at it and think or say, “I don’t have time to do all of that!” Then she’ll turn you down.
Get the volunteer committed to the position first, then schedule an appointment to begin “planning,” or “an orientation to give you more detail about our mission and nonprofit.” Avoid calling it a “training” session. Few people like, or feel like, they need training.
Where should this meeting be held?
You want a place that’s reasonably quiet, where the two or three of you can have a conversation and where distractions such as telephones, coffee shop blenders, and kids coming home from school won’t disturb you. If you meet this person at her place of work, ask to move to a conference room so that she won’t be tempted by her computer monitor or office phone. If this meeting takes place at her home, avoid the time of day when her kids are coming home from school.
Why is this meeting so important?
You’re partners, but you will each have different responsibilities and most likely you have different personalities and styles. Explain your responsibilities. Are you responsible for more than just the program or event she now leads? If you don’t let her know, she will think you are just sitting there waiting for her to call you. She may have worked with staff in other nonprofits where they did all the work and volunteers just signed off on letters and policies. Is that how you work? If not, you better let her know quickly. Otherwise, her perception of what you do will be wrong and lead to an enormous conflict down the road.
Do not go any further in your orientation until she understands your role even if this takes up the entire amount of time. If that’s the case, schedule the rest of your orientation for your next appointment. The time you invest in getting this right is well worth it.
You’re going to be working with this volunteer for a number of months, perhaps longer. It is imperative that she understands your role and what you can and can’t do for her. Clarity on this point means there is much less likely to be a personality conflict between the two of you and more likely that the two of you will establish a productive successful relationship.