By: NobleHour Special Contributor Natasha Derezinski-Choo
Volunteer coordinators help an organization run smoothly. They are the point of contact between the volunteers and the organization. However, not many people know about this challenging and important field. In order to understand what it means to be a volunteer coordinator, what skills it takes, and how one might get involved, I spoke with two volunteer coordinators at local organizations to gain their insight.
Carole Whisnant is the volunteer coordinator for The Salvation Army in Greensboro, NC. She has been managing volunteers since 2008. Prior to coming to Greensboro, she was an office manager in Atlanta, GA where she also worked with many volunteers.
Kelli Crawford is the volunteer coordinator at the Greensboro Science Center. She has been working in this position for three years now, and manages more than 750 volunteers a year.
The volunteer coordinator is vital to the success of any organization. Whisnant explained that her primary job is recruiting volunteers for their various programs and services, and that the job requires her to “wear many hats.”
Crawford elaborates on these different “hats” with something volunteer coordinators call the “Three R’s”—recruitment, retention, and recognition. In terms of recruitment, volunteer coordinators must find volunteers for programs and advertise any volunteer opportunities. At GSC, there are a variety of programs in need of volunteers, and part of Crawford’s job is making sure people are aware of those programs.
Volunteer coordinators are also responsible for making sure that the people who are giving up their time to the organization have all the necessary tools and information to do the most good. Retention depends on ensuring that volunteers feel like they are making a difference and getting the most out of the time they serve. Volunteers need to feel valued, and a volunteer coordinator makes sure they do. GSC has two formal volunteer recognition events each year.
Fulfilling all of the responsibilities of a volunteer coordinator also involves learning and acquiring skills to deal with many people. A person must have certain skills and characteristics in order to efficiently manage hundreds of volunteers. According to Whisnant, the three most important qualities for a volunteer coordinator are good communication skills, patience, and a good attitude. Crawford agrees that communication is an important part of managing volunteers and believes the ability to communicate stems from being a people person. “You have got to be able to talk to people. If you can’t relate to your volunteers, you’re not going to be successful. You’ve got to definitely be able to train people. You have to know how to convey info in a way that’s fun but also gets your points across. That’s a part of motivating your volunteers and making sure they know what is expected of them.”
Lastly, Crawford emphasizes the importance of organization. “One of the things that they expect when they are giving their time freely to your organization is that you’re going to know what you are doing, and you’re going to have everything together. If you tell them you’re going to do something they expect you to do it and to do it on time. It’s really important to make that good impression.”
Local organizations that rely on volunteers also rely on skilled volunteer coordinators. It takes a certain type of person to keep volunteers informed and inspire them to stay with your cause. Being organized, having the patience to work well with people, and communicating effectively are some of these most important skills a person needs to manage volunteers.
For anyone considering a volunteer coordinator position, this is definitely both an exciting and difficult field. Whisnant and Crawford both advise that this is not a job for just anyone. “If you don't enjoy working closely with people then I would not recommend this field," said Whisnant. "Working with volunteers can be very challenging and demanding.”
In her experience, Crawford says one of the greatest challenges is knowing there are only so many people wanting to volunteer, and even less who will be interested in your organization. The struggle comes from reaching all of those people who can be an asset to your organization. She believes the volunteer coordinator position is not really one of those careers that people set out to obtain. Instead, people usually get involved by volunteering or perhaps working with an organization, and then if a volunteer coordinator position opens up, their experience with volunteering may lead them in that direction. Though this is a difficult field, Crawford loves her job. “It’s really rewarding because you are managing people who do this for the love of doing it, not because they are getting paid to do it. You get to meet some the best people of your life.”
Special thanks to my two interviewees Carole Whisnant and Kelli Crawford.
Are you interested in finding meaningful volunteer opportunities in your community or do you want to post your opportunities for others to see? Sign up for your free NobleHour account today!
Natasha Derezinski-Choo is a student at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. She started volunteering in high school and hasn’t stopped since! Natasha enjoys writing poetry, cooking, and traveling. Wherever she goes, she always wants to experience something new.