Friday, January 27, 2012

On Volunteer Management Network Meetings!

I have often seen in literature on Volunteer Management (VM) advice to VMs to join a VM network. I am a supporter of this. Volunteer Managers normally work in isolation within organisations i.e. you rarely find a team of volunteer managers and volunteer coordinators in the one building.
There are many advantages in my opinion to a network:

The simple fact of meeting others in a similar role to you
Talking a talk that others should understand!
Ideas, solutions, problems in a safe environment and with people who share the same issues or solutions
Debriefing and support
Good networks can do this.
Professional contact
If you truly value your job as a profession meeting like minded souls can be empowering.
Identifying best practice
Networking encourages you to learn from others who have good ideas or who have implemented great strategies.

A great truism for me is the belief that sometimes we need to experience something negative to truly get something positive!

My first experience of a volunteer management network wasn’t the best. I sat with a group of people who were offloading their issues. And the big issue was ….drum beat…..those pesky volunteers! Yes I kid you not! Story after story was about what this volunteer did and what that volunteer did to annoy this coordinator or that manager. Sure it was an opportunity to vent but where was the balance? There was none. Where was the professionalism? Sadly lacking with this approach I felt. So I quietly disappeared from the group. Instead of speaking up which I should have done! In my defense I was a new kid on the block!

I’ve since been involved in several networks. Plus we now have online networks. That may be a topic for another blog altogether for they blow hot and cold.

So here are my 10 tips on effective networking and network meetings.

1.Serious Structure

A network needs to have terms of reference. There must be a vision. A stated purpose. To “ chin wag” and gossip doesn’t cut it! Volunteer Managers are busy so there needs to be clarity and structure. Agenda items, minutes and all those lovely things associated with committees don’t go astray!

2.Strong chairs

Not the kind you are sitting on! If you are going to have an effective network meeting then the chair needs the strength to keep everyone on topic and on time!

3.Not Social Now

Yes, you are meeting up with fellow VMs but professional network meetings shouldn’t be social occasions. To be sure you can organise social get together’s as part of the agenda but focus is required for professional network meetings


Have a goal for each meeting. What will be our learning? What will we resolve? What will we discover? What can we achieve?

5.Trust and confidentiality

A good network needs to establish a safe environment. Do you feel you can talk on any issue and have it remain within your network group?

6.A full agenda

You must work together to ensure there are many items to discuss. Now come on! There is so much to discuss in Volunteer Management. There is never an excuse to have a network meeting without an agenda!

7.Full participation

A network can’t survive if the same one or two people are giving agenda items or speaking up at each meeting. Everyone has a unique viewpoint and everyone should be encouraged to share.

8.Outsiders and other views

Invite guests to your network meetings. Think outside of your VM square. Look for other successful managers. Leadership and management skills can be universal – explore!

9.Follow up

Network meetings are about networking!! Have you got the business cards of everyone at that meeting? Continue the networking? Ask if they are comfortable sharing ideas and touching base with you on issues on a one to one basis. Ask first though.

10.Thank you and appreciate

Being on a network is a voluntary act more often than not! It could be a Key performance indicator for your job. Whatever the case, a basic tenet of volunteer management should come into place – recognising and thanking the efforts of others. If you get some great advice or tip at a network meeting follow up with a quick email to the individual who helped you out.
Volunteer Managers often spend a great amount of their precious time offering solutions or being good sounding boards. Acknowledge peoples contribution.

Effective Networks can only strengthen our sector. Join one today if you haven’t already or if there are none that you know of – start one yourself! Feel free to use some of the tips above!


  1. That's a great list DJ. I've recently moved states and am feeling a lack of good networks - thinking of starting one myself.

    The one tip I would add to your list is, if you're in an area where there are several networks available (as I was in my previous role)take the time to visit them all and find the ones that are right for you. It's such a personal thing - I've attended several networks that colleagues swear by but I didn't like at all. And, if you can't find a network that suits your needs, then start one.

  2. Hi Sarah. Thanks for taking the time to comment and good luck setting up your network if you go down that road. I'd be interested to hear what aspects of the networks didnt sit well with you?

  3. Hi DJ. Thank you for this blog and the suggestions. I am new to the Volunteer Management realm, as I am currently with the AmeriCorps Volunteer Infrastructure Program working at a non-profit agency in Santa Cruz, CA. It is a fairly large organization, and I am effectively starting their volunteer program from scratch. I am finding it difficult to find networking groups here in Santa Cruz, with the minimal attempt I have made at finding one being the biggest hinderance. Do you have any suggestions on how to find one, either in SC or online? Thank you... and do you belong to one online that you might suggest my joining (as well as any other articles, readings, etc you could suggest as I am for sure a newbie at this)? Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.
    ~Jennifer Harman

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      Many thanks for your post and your feedback. I appreciate it greatly! Welcome to the Volunteer Management realm! I hope it brings you joy, inspiration and great learning! Believe me when I tell you that I know what it is like starting a volunteer program from scratch! The only advice I would offer there is to constantly picture your goal. Know what you want. What would your successful volunteer program look like? Know what you want and then go for it with a bag full of key ingredients – positivity, hard work, knowledge, humour, open mindness, flexibility, willingness to learn, patience, and above all confidence!

      Unfortunately I do not have local knowledge of SC to be able to point you in the direction of a network. Perhaps readers might be able to help.

      In terms of online networks the three I recommend are Ozvpm(Australasia) UKVPM and in the states Cybervpm. Google these names for more info

      In terms of articles and other reading I would point you to the links on my blog page and highly recommend you check them out.

      For anyone in Volunteer Management Energize is a must visit! or check my links on the main page of this blog
      Susan J Ellis is one of the most globally respected figures in volunteerism and her site has some wonderful resources and links.

      Jayne Cravens is an author I respect because her views are so often 10 years ahead of the sector! She doesn’t hold back and she is also in my opinion such a generous person when it comes to sharing tips and advice on her blog. Also if you are after a speaker or consultant in the US then I highly recommend Jayne!(I’ve seen her in action!) You will find her website in my links

      Erin Barnhart is an internationally recognized expert in domestic and international service and volunteer engagement. A great writer thinker and speaker you can find her work here

      Andy Fryar is a guru in all matters volunteerism in the southern hemisphere. His Ozvpm site has great articles and many resources for volunteer management wherever you are in the world. Andy also travels the world bringing great insights on volunteerism so look out for him in your area! His site is linked on my home page

      Rob Jackson is a UK based consultant and it is worth checking out his blog which is linked on my homepage. Responsible for the UKVPM network, Robs influence is being felt across the UK and internationally as he brings years of experience in the volunteerism field to his writing and consultancy work. A must have on your links and linked on my page

      Martin J Cowling is a consultant writer, presenter, blogger and much more on volunteerism and other community activity. Look out for him as he frequently visits the US. He brings humour, openness and knowledge to his presentations and talks. Subscribe to his organisation People First Total Solutions for a great newsletter!

      There are many dynamic bloggers out there on Volunteer Management - Just Google “Volunteer management blogs” to get started or check out the links on Susan J Ellis Energize site!

      I hope this gets you started Jennifer.
      I look forward to hearing how you progress! Good luck! Let us know how you go!

  4. I think my main issue was the same as you mention - people using networks to complain about their volunteers. I went to one network (and then never went back) where I found it quite distressing how disempowered the volunteer managers in the room were, even when faced with situations of baltantly unacceptable bahviour from volunteers.

    My other big gripe about network meetings is the ones that start with round the table introductions that go on forever. Even though different people might attend each meeting, and it's good to know everyone's name and organisation, it's not useful for half the meeting time to be taken up with introductions - maybe that goes back to your point of needing a strong chair.

    1. Thanks Sarah for your comments and for sharing your experience! This will be truly valued by people reading this! It is interesting to hear of the disempowerment that can come with our jobs in certain areas and I have witnessed this too. It is a shame given our powerful and dynamic roles! There are those of us who have been empowered by our roles and who have earned respect because of what we do. I firmly believe that we should put a little time aside to do what we can to assist our colleagues who are struggling.

      I so get Sarah, your point on the “let’s spend the entire day introducing each other networks”. I’ve been there too. Mind you it has really highlighted to me how high the turnover can be on Volunteer Management!

      I’d love to see you Sarah go back to these networks and act as a catalyst for change. Or set up a network of your own! Be the strong chair that you talk of! You are already off to a great start in terms of self awareness! As Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world”

      Thank you Sarah. Your insights and sharing are already helping people!


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