What's it like?
September 26, 2012 1:51 PM   Subscribe

I have an interview this week for an assistant volunteer coordinator position at a local organization. I've done some volunteer management before but haven't had a position like this. If YOU have, or do, what's it like? Any advice for an interview?
posted by trillian to Work & Money (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You'll want to go in knowing as much as possible about the volunteer program. What kind of organization is it? What kind of work do the volunteers do? Is volunteering competitive or do they really have to recruit a lot? Are they long-term positions or one-offs?

Generally, the best volunteer coordinators are both really well-organized (so they can manage shifts, reminders, training, etc) but also really personable and approachable. It's surprising how few people are strong on both of these fronts, so if you can show that you are, that will take you far. Also, it helps if you are really jazzed about both the mission and the work the organization does.
posted by lunasol at 2:03 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I haven't been a volunteer coordinator, but I've worked in offices with them and my best friend is one.

Of course, a lot of it depends on the organization. But it seems that universally, a lot of it is just being available, being patient and being a good people person while knowing when to make boundaries. You are managing volunteered labor - so you deal with a lot of flakiness and that sort of thing. You deal with ALL kinds of folks. A lot of the people who volunteer tend to be teenagers or the elderly - teenagers who need something on their resume or college apps, elderly who have the time and inclination. These can be difficult demographics to deal with sometimes, so that's where the whole patience and friendliness thing comes in.

A lot of emailing and answering the same questions over and over, sometimes for the same person.

Some database management. Lots of places have volunteer-specific databases that track volunteer schedules and hours.

Screening of potential volunteers. Sometimes you have to say no if someone isn't a good fit. You also have to set boundaries - some volunteers will want to volunteer for something that is not an appropriate volunteer position. Some will never show up and keep wanting to be on the schedule. Some will majorly screw up during their volunteer shift and you'll have to do something about it - either make sure it doesn't happen again or explain that they're not a great fit for the organization.

You'll also work closely with program and development staff - finding out what the volunteer needs are, figuring out how to staff events or programs appropriately with volunteers, potentially working with volunteers who may be potential donors.

You'll send out a lot of thank you cards.

With a lot of non-profits, getting the job sometimes is more of a question of how you'll fit into the culture, not necessarily how experienced you are. Treat it as any other interview, but highlight your people skills, your organizational skills, and management skills, as these are the critical things of being a good volunteer manager.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:04 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, if recruitment would be part of your job, come in knowing how they already recruit (at least, as much as you can see from public channels like their website) and be able to offer ideas for improving recruitment.
posted by lunasol at 2:05 PM on September 26, 2012

Best answer: Lots of energy, a pleasant personality, great organization skills ... and patience.

Some orgs have great marketing or offer a product/service people want so they have volunteers lining up at the door for every event. But usually it's hard to get volunteers to commit, and even then less than half actually show up on the day of the event. Many volunteers are retired and have their own idea about how things ought to be done. Matching people to skills can be a challenge. Lots of paperwork too, tracking volunteer hours, following up with people, pulling together numbers & narratives to be used in grant applications.

It's really important work. As a hardcore introvert, I am not cut out for it. I work with a lot of nonprofits though and have volunteered a lot over the years and I am always impressed by seeing it all come together. You don't have to have much experience to do it, but you will definitely gain a lot of experience doing it.
posted by headnsouth at 2:20 PM on September 26, 2012

Best answer: Here's a good book: To Lead Is to Serve by Shar McBee.
posted by ottereroticist at 2:50 PM on September 26, 2012

Pay attention to both volunteer recruitment and volunteer retention! You've got to be able to get people in, and also keep them involved in the organization by having ongoing training, appreciation events and team building. Lots of people volunteer both to align with the organization's mission *and* to meet new people. Talk about how you would try to make it possible for people to do both.
posted by jasper411 at 2:55 PM on September 26, 2012

yeah, I've done this sort of thing. It would be good to know how many people you usually have to fill out a recommendation letter or other sort of paperwork for, in my volunteer coordination thing there was a ton of acting as a mentor or preceptor for someone's school credit thing or serving as a job reference, writing letters for people, etc.

I guess the only thing I can say not being sure what kind of information you're looking for is that you would score points in my book if you emphasized any skills you have with conflict resolution or mediation. Positions such as being an RA in college or a camp counselor would be good preparation (this may be more specific to my particular experience in which the volunteers lived on-site for a period of time).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:56 PM on September 26, 2012

For the interview be prepared to talk about any management experience that you have. Even if it's just planning a school project, volunteer coordination requires serious management skills (scheduling, mediating conflicts, mentoring).

Also lunasol's advice to mention new recruitment methods is great. A lot of orgs don't know how awesome online volunteer recruitment tools are (Volunteer Match and Hands On are the two I use the most).
posted by entropyiswinning at 11:23 PM on September 26, 2012

Oh and being able to work with diverse groups of people and understanding their needs is really important. Ask yourself what each volunteer wants out of the experience (socializing, opportunity to work with their hands, supporting a specific cause, work experience?) and what they can bring to the organization (professional skills, contacts, willingness to scan millions of documents?). Also, be willing to tailor your communications to your volunteers. Some will sign up for projects months in advance and respond best to emails, others will prefer to drop in, or get a telephone call. You'll probably have a different answer for every person.
posted by entropyiswinning at 11:29 PM on September 26, 2012

Response by poster: This is all really helpful, thank you!
posted by trillian at 6:22 AM on September 27, 2012

Response by poster: Interview went well (very casual) and they'll make a decision by the end of next week! There are three other candidates, so we'll see... There aren't many procedures/protocols in place, so it seems like a great opportunity to build a great program from the ground up.
posted by trillian at 12:41 PM on September 28, 2012

Response by poster: And now am being brought back for a second interview. :)
posted by trillian at 1:24 PM on October 5, 2012

Response by poster: And a final update -- had to take myself out of the running when I found it how little it paid.
posted by trillian at 6:36 AM on October 29, 2012

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