Supervisors: How to empower the volunteers they oversee

In 2011, 26.5 percent of Michigan residents volunteered through an organization.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, in 2011 the number of volunteers reached its highest level in five years, as 64.3 million Americans volunteered through an organization. In Michigan alone, 26.5 percent of residents volunteered their time, which is equivalent to approximately 233.6 hours of service.

With such an outstanding amount of volunteering happing in Michigan and across the United States, there must be people who work diligently to identify, select, orient, train, utilize, recruit and evaluate (ISOTURE). Often times, these diligent workers are called “supervisors of volunteers.” It may sound simple to work as a supervisor of volunteers, but in actuality, this profession can challenge a person to earn the trust and respect of the volunteers they supervise. Remember that volunteers don’t get paid for the work they do, so it’s likely that they are a motivated to volunteer for other reasons.

In seeking a trustworthy and respectful relationship between the volunteers and the supervisor, Michigan State University Extension says it may be helpful to consider the word “empowerment.” According to Jarene Frances Lee and Julia M. Catagnus in their book, What We Learned (the Hard Way) About Supervising Volunteers, a supervisor’s goal within their relations with a volunteer is to “empower them to be successful.” To empower a volunteer doesn’t mean that they should smother them or micro-manage their work. Rather, it means the supervisor inspires, energizes and encourages them as they accomplish their volunteer work.

Lee and Catagnus also outline in their book, 10 significant ways that a supervisor can empower their volunteers to be successful. They include:

  1.  Express your passion for the mission of the organization and the goals of the work unit
  2. Demonstrate your competency
  3. Reflect a caring attitude toward the whole team – individually and collectively
  4. Be accessible and approachable
  5. Aim for consistency
  6. Provide a job description
  7. Offer top-notch training
  8. Provide feedback
  9. Share information
  10. Express your appreciation

There are many resources that are available to help those who supervise volunteers to be successful. Watch for future articles from MSU Extension about working with volunteers.

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