This essay describes successful practices in volunteer development to help organizations make the best use of their volunteers.
In the United States, 44 percent of adults (83.9 million people) volunteer, representing the equivalent of over 9 million full-time employees at a value of $239 billion (Independent Sector 2002). In many organizations, the work of volunteers plays an essential role in effective organizational performance, and thus their training and development are as important as that of paid staff. People volunteer and quit volunteering for a variety of reasons, but studies show that volunteer management and development play an important role. In a UPS Foundation (1999) survey, 40% of volunteers cited poor management practices as a reason for quitting. In a Canadian study (Phillips, Little, and Goodine 2002), the top three ways in which volunteers felt supported were organizational infrastructure, appreciation, and training; personal development ranked only slightly behind appreciation as the most important retention factor. Organizations such as 4-H, the Red Cross, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters have a comprehensive infrastructure and procedures for volunteer development. In smaller organizations, development of both paid and unpaid staff is a challenge. This essay describes successful practices in volunteer development to help organizations make the best use of their volunteers.
The Development Process
Development should be a comprehensive, continuous process through which individuals can extend, update, and adapt their knowledge, skills, and abilities to enhance their performance and potential. It may include training—instruction in specific skills for particular tasks, but development has a broader, long-term focus. A comprehensive development program introduces volunteers to an organization's philosophy, mission, and activities; helps cultivate the "big picture" of service; provides a sense of individual strengths and needs; and prepares volunteers with the information and skills needed to perform their assignments (Bengels 1999; McKay et al. 1998). As volunteers continue working with an organization, a development plan will give them opportunities to acquire new skills and move to new assignments, which can prevent burnout, improve retention, and fulfill their need to make a difference (Bengels 1999; Older People 2001).
National standards for volunteer development were recommended at the V2K 2000 Conference (http://www.reeusda.gov/f4hn/v2k/Where_Do_We_Go.htm), but general standards have yet to be developed in the United States. National standards have been published by the Voluntary Sector National Training Organisation (VSNTO 2002) in the United Kingdom and by Volunteering Australia (2001). A number of models for volunteer management and development are used in the United States, particularly GEMS (Culp et al. 1999). The following discussion is organized around the 4 steps and 18 phases (noted in italics) of the...