Webinar presenter Lori Todd answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Managing Difficult Volunteers: How and When to Let Volunteers Go. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: How often do you have those volunteer forums? How long are they? Are they in person? Just kind of talk us through a little bit about those volunteer forums.
Lori R. Todd: The volunteer forums. What we did, was to have the volunteers vote. They voted amongst themselves and had representatives, one for cats, one for dogs. And then, every two months, we’re meeting here at the shelter, before we were meeting via Zoom. Every two months and they would, they would bring the big questions, big changes, like new interaction yards. As far as the simpler questions that can be answered, we do a Zoom meeting, like on the second Saturday. So, they can, you could pick a time that is good for everyone, or good for the majority of people so that they could come in with simple questions. How are we going to work the hours for the holidays and simple things like that? Then my e-mail is up all the time. So, e-mail is the best way to find me, and everybody seems to be able to find me.
Audience Question: What do you do with volunteers who view any conversation as confrontational or criticism? Even when it’s constructive criticism and asking how to help upsets them?
Lori R. Todd: Those are the harder ones. I think volunteers like that because I do have them. You have to think of it, as ripping off the band-aid. You don’t want to do it a little bit of time. You just do it all at one time. You know that when you go in, they’re going to have, they think that you’re coming at them because they’ve done something wrong. And you have to realize that it’s something also going on in their lives that you may not know about. And you just have to keep telling them, “I’m not coming at you, I’m asking for your help. How can we fix this? How do you think this should be fixed?” And if you can turn them around and get them on your side, you will have a friend for life. And if you can’t, then you just have to sort of follow the steps, and they end up weeding themselves out as harsh as that sounds.
Audience Question: I’ve been looking into free platforms kind of similar to Slack workspaces for day-to-day communications with volunteers. Do you have any recommendations for something like this, but maybe more tailored towards volunteers or should she just go with her original idea of Slack?
Lori R. Todd: I don’t know what that one is. Trello.com. It is a platform where it’s free. I mean, you can upgrade it, of course. And this is a platform that we use, we have several different, I guess, pages within this. One is for foster parents. One is for rescue partners. And one is for volunteers, so that the volunteers you have, where, if they see that they’re repairs, that need to be done, that can put it there, their supplies that they need. A lot of them say, You know, I see that Sally is no longer on the website, what happened to her? Did she go into foster? And you would be able to have a lot of people in your facility can have access to it. So, it’s not just you bearing the burden of trying to answer where Sally went. So, Trello has been wonderful and free.
Audience Question: What’s the best approach for someone who feels like they have authority and seniority over you because you’re newer and younger than the previous volunteer coordinator?
Lori R. Todd: Well, that is a case of being persistent when you are speaking with them. Yes, I am younger than the previous volunteer coordinator, and I’m younger than a lot of the volunteers that come into work with the animals. So, that has happened, and you have to be persistent in your own knowledge of what is what you’re supposed to be following. It is persistence. They’re going to come to, they, they will either come to your side and realize you know what you’re talking about. Or they will move on to another organization, which I’ve had them do that, too. And that’s fine.
Audience Question: My organization has a long period of onboarding, about a month. I’ve been giving them a handbook to sign at the end of this process, just before moving them into their active roles. Should I be thinking about providing this handbook and having them sign it earlier in the orientation?
Lori R. Todd: That’s a very good question. Our onboarding also takes quite a while because we are under the police department under the city of Charlotte. So, being under the police department, there are a lot of additional things that have to happen. So, the onboarding takes a while and what we have done is that once they have passed most of the onboarding like they’ve gotten the background check done and they’re safe. And they have their references in and all the references check out. Then, yes. I have been sending them expectations, and even bringing some of them in, to do some pre-training. Sign a waiver, signing a waiver coming in. Because you can do that with, like, special groups. They’ll sign a waiver to come in and work for a day. You can, I can bring them in, like, sign a waiver, and I started giving them this information so that they already have it.
Audience Question: How do you do your volunteer orientation? Is it in-person training? Is it bits of time? Is it online? Or is it here’s the manual, read it?
Lori R. Todd: Oh, no. It is two-handed with us, because the police, our police department has theirs because our volunteers can also volunteer with the police department if they so choose. They could do ———————–, they could go and do citizens on patrol. So, they have their orientation, then they come in and if they are starting, let’s say, that usually people come in and they say, I want to work with dogs. So, I pair them with a senior volunteer mentor who has gone through the process, has probably been here for years, and one of the handouts is the dog mentoring checklist. They go all the way through this checklist, and they are usually with two different people and go, that’s how we do there, do our training. It’s better to have it one-on-one, and at that point, is when we say, these are the expectations for dog walking. If you have someone that’s going to be dog walking. But they never want you to go in and mess with snakes or lizards, or go to the barn with horses, and all they want to do is dogs, then we give them the dog and the basic housekeeping rules – these are the times, and this is what you do, and this is how the social media works, so it could be piecemeal for the most part, because most people go, oh, I wanted to dogs. I want to do cats. I only want to do events. But then we have the whole handbook that we put online to say, “Here’s the link to the handbook,” and they sign, “Yes, I have access to the handbook.” If they’ve read it or not, they have to sign to say that they have access to it. So, and then you can do a little bit, a little bit of a piecemeal is the way we do it.
Audience Question: Do you have a separate volunteer handbook from the regular employee handbook?
Lori R. Todd: Not really, because we have, it’s basic, it is basically the same. It is just that a lot of people don’t want to, they want to come walk dogs, they don’t necessarily want to come clean kennels. But, if you’re walking dogs, we do give them the part about cleaning kennels, in case they need to clean a kennel to put a dog into a clean kennel. So, it’s basically the same, the exact same handbook because we sort of tried to hold them to those same expectations for the most part. Except, like, scheduling with volunteers, they are given their time in, if at the last minute, they can’t come in, is understandable.
Audience Question: Do you ever have issues with volunteers thinking these procedures like documenting or documenting verbal meetings, issuing written warnings are just too formal. She says, she often gets volunteers, who say, and sometimes staff will say this too, “I’m just a volunteer.”
Lori R. Todd: I have never had one say that, because, yes, they are just a volunteer, but they are, they’ve signed, they followed a lot of the stuff that the staff has. I mean, we have to do a background check and have all of these different things, and they have a lot of the same access that we do. And we have to follow the same rules that they do for reliability. I’ve never had one say that to me. I think that once they find out that they’re sort of put there, as my father would say, you know, put their feet to the fire. They realize that maybe, they misread something, misunderstood something. Sometimes, it’s, you know, I’m an adult not that. I’m a volunteer that they feel that I am younger than them and I shouldn’t be just quote-unquote disciplining them. But I’ve never had anyone say that.
Audience Question: I think one of the largest issues we have is with entitlement. We have many long-term volunteers who have quality skill sets like emergency management or search and rescue. They can do the actual job but feel like they should be able to take advantage or have the same deal as paid staff. What do you do with those volunteers?
Lori R. Todd: Oh, yes. We were talking about that just before we got on. We do have, and this happens more with my foster parents who volunteered to come in and foster animals for us, is that come in. But, yes, they have worked just as many hours as I have during a week. But they have rules at their business, and we have rules at our business. My example is for a lot of people is if you go to the gas station. Tell them that you want a quarter pounder meal fries and a sweet iced tea, so that you all know him from the South. So, what I’ve seen, you’re at a gas station. They don’t sell McDonald’s there. You can’t tell them that they have to do that. That’s my, you know, maybe entitlement. For the most part, also our volunteers and our staff have some of the same responsibilities. We give them the same sort of leeway. For the most part, I have to look at it this way… If I wouldn’t let my favorite volunteer do it, I shouldn’t. If I would let them do it, then everybody should be able to do it. If I won’t let them do it, then nobody should be able to do it. The one that we were talking about entitlement is that this person works 8 to 5, Monday through Friday. Fostering a dog that has medical issues. My veterinarian leaves by five o’clock, Monday through Friday. She always gets here at a quarter of seven when we close at seven o’clock and want something medical done with an animal. I am not a veterinarian. My veterinarian works Monday through Friday, 8-5. And she’s been told, and she even told me. Well, I’ve already been told this. I’m not going to have my veterinarian stay over so, you can either leave the dog and that she can see it on Monday. Or you can bring it back on Monday. And we can make you an appointment and this particular time, she left the dog with me. So, you can maybe find some leeway with that. But I mean, rules are rules. I don’t even know any other better way to say that there’s a rule. If I’m not going to let Sue do it who I really, really liked and I’m not going to let them do it. When they start to say—————————– I’m not going to let them do it if I don’t let her do it.