How to be a good volunteer coordinator

Beyond supervising a group of volunteers completing a list of tasks, a great volunteer coordinator helps each member to be more efficient while also using their skills to fulfill the long-term goals of the organization. In other words, great volunteer management means getting things actually done while also bringing something extra to the table.

Illustration of a volunteer coordinator

Great coordinators motivate volunteers through persuasion

Karl Moore, former Oxford professor and leadership researcher, states that a good team leader is able to convince others to act upon a mission, helps resolve crisis, addresses team concerns and ideas, knows when to push and when to allow people to relax. This is not an easy feat, even for experienced managers. 

“Because corporate managers volunteering in nonprofits don’t have titles to define their positions, they have to practice what some call ‘per mission leadership’. That is, they have to earn the trust and respect of the people they are supervising,” writes Moore.

Coordinators can also bring volunteers together in order to fulfill the mission of the organization. Juliet Moncaster, member of the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA), experienced how challenging it can be to ensure that the organization communicates its own vision, while many personal opinions may still exist.

“I learnt that the overall voice may not always be perfectly aligned with my personal viewpoint but, as a leader in the NPA, I had to speak as an NPA representative and speak the NPA’s stance,” says Moncaster.

How good coordination can help to save money

There are many skills needed in the nonprofit sector, including social media management, accounting, and IT. Great volunteer coordinators share their special expertise with other team members via personal or group tutorials, thus helping the organization to save on training costs.

According to Deepa Prasad, Marketing Product Manager of Catch A Fire, nonprofits and events usually run on limited resources, so having a volunteer coordinator with a good set of skills is a great asset. 

“Skills-based volunteering is a particularly impactful way of giving back: Professionals donate not only their time and passion but their unique talents to nonprofits in need of their abilities,” says Prasad.

A great volunteer coordinator can bring back the human touch

Beyond being performance-focused, great team coordinators are also emotionally intelligent, a  trait that they may be even unaware of. Such was the case of Hannah Grace Weston, a former volunteer at International Citizen Service, who became the staff leader of a Malawi-based education project during her service.

“I quickly learnt that that stereotypical image of a good leader – a confident speaker, someone to take the lead – isn’t everything. I discovered that just as important are compassion, open mindedness and leaving your ego at the door,” recalls Weston.

Elena Aguilar, leadership consultant at the firm Bright Morning, identifies emotional intelligence as the most critical factor regarding the success of an organization. Although finding emotionally intelligent coordinators is not easy, there are some tell-tale signs that can identify them.

“You’ll recognize an emotionally intelligent leader if you feel listened to and understood. He won’t be distracted, seemingly impatient, or offering what might feel like rote responses to your questions,” notes Aguilar.

How coordinators help volunteers to make more impact

By managing a group of volunteers and sharing their skills, great coordinators can expand the impact an organization can have. Team leaders of The Mountaineers, a nonprofit outdoor community, post activities, write blogs, screen participants and review feedback to help conserve the Pacific Northwest. 

“Volunteer leaders are the lifeblood of The Mountaineers – they teach courses, lead trips, and generally fulfill every aspect of our mission,” states The Mountaineers official site.

By proposing and executing their own plans, great coordinators can push organizations to the next level. Todd Stanley, a project-based learning blogger at The Gifted Guy, notes that team leaders are self-reliant. Setting up requirements is actually counterproductive for coordinators with leadership skills, since it gives them no room to take the initiative.

“Leaders don’t have to be told what to do. They simply gravitate toward taking action on their own,” writes Stanley.

Self-management is indeed one of the biggest qualities that differentiate great coordinators and can benefit organizations the most. Boston Cares, the largest volunteer agency in New England, relies on the different initiatives managed by their team coordinators in order to place their pool of available volunteers

“The quantity and diversity of projects that are on the monthly calendar directly correlates with the number of active Volunteer Leaders,” explains its website.

By having a volunteer coordinator who shares the overall vision, acts with empathy, and has initiative, organizations can be certain that the work of the volunteer team will reflect these values and will be effective on making a bigger impact in the long run.