Identifying Meaningful Assignments For Volunteers

The volunteer manager - in concert with staff, board members and volunteers - helps clarify the work that needs to be done by volunteers to achieve the goals of the organization and then segments that work into components that reflect the reality of today's volunteer work force.
Almost any work that needs to be done to meet the objectives of your group, agency or organization can be done by volunteers. There is no rule that says that only certain assignments can be done by a volunteer! Remember, physicians regularly staff 'free' medical clinics and board members often provide professional services at no cost. If the person is qualified for the task and is interested and willing to perform the work without monetary compensation, then the task can be performed voluntarily.
Several strategies can be used to identify meaningful service opportunities in your organization or agency, including:

1. Cross Agency and Advisory Teams

Advisory teams of employees and volunteers can be very helpful with the design of appropriate volunteer tasks and the integration of volunteers into the staff team.
The Arc of the Capital Area, for example, has an advisory team of staff, volunteers, and volunteer leaders from other organizations that discusses possibilities for volunteer service and recognition. In addition, the volunteer coordinator sits on several cross-agency planning teams. The planning results in broad descriptions of client, agency, community needs. From there, program leaders, in consultation with the volunteer coordinator, develop volunteer positions geared towards addressing specific needs.

2. Formal Needs Surveys

Surveys can also be used to identify volunteer assignments that will help advance the goals of the organization. Here are some sample staff surveys that can be modified for use at your organization or agency:

  • Job Development Report,Texas Department of Health Volunteer Health Corps
This report is generally used with programs that the volunteer staff has never worked with or in areas of high staff turnover. It elicits information that is critical not only to task development but to volunteer matching and placement. Sometimes program staff members have a specific volunteer request but they haven't had the time to consider other ways that volunteers can support their goals and objectives. The Job Development Report helps the volunteer coordinator and the agency staff flesh-out new areas for volunteer involvement.
  • Request for Assistance, Texas Office of the Attorney General (OAG) Volunteer Program
This form is sent out to all volunteer liaisons (3) times per year. The OAG asks liaisons to fill out the form even if they don't want any volunteers. This forces liaisons to think about what tasks they want a volunteer to do, instead of just saying "send me one and I'll find a position for them." It makes them consider what qualifications and skills the task really requires and how much time it will take.

3. NOAH Process by Ivan Scheier
NOAH stands for the Need Overlap Analysis in the Helping Process. Essentially Scheier advocates a process whereby staff members are each asked to identify the tasks that they perform on a regular basis. Next they are asked to identify a list of tasks that they wish they had time to perform. The lists are then analyzed to ferret out those pieces of work that the staff member either must perform or most enjoys doing. Items of work that remain on the list become starting points for a discussion about assignments that could be performed by volunteers.
In the final analysis, elements of enjoyment and challenges must be present in both staff and volunteer positions. Be sure that your discussions with staff don't lead only to volunteer assignments that are considered unfulfilling and/or menial. The same process can be used with clients and volunteers to identify additional service assignments.
This process is the basis for the discussion of "Creating Volunteer Jobs" in Essential Volunteer Management (1989) by volunteer management experts McCurley and Lynch.

Informal Mechanisms
It is very important to listen to the needs of your organization. Exciting new volunteer opportunities can emerge from informal conversations with colleagues, volunteers and customers. Here are a couple of tips from professionals in the field:

  • Insert yourself into settings or meetings where the needs of your organization are articulated - the cafeteria, cross-agency teams, staff meetings, after-hours get-togethers, etc.
  • Get a grasp on larger trends within the organization by talking with colleagues and clients and reviewing agency publications and correspondence.

It's then up to the volunteer manager to translate identified needs into volunteer task assignments.