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Preparing Your Short-Term Volunteer Roles

Posted By Sammy Feilchenfeld, Training Coordinator, October 21, 2015
Updated: October 19, 2015
Estimated reading time - 3 minutes              


Currently, short-term volunteering is one of the biggest trends in volunteer management. More and more volunteers want to make a bigger impact in a shorter time-frame – maybe they can’t commit to long-term or recurring programs, or maybe they’re drawn to the shorter event or activity you’re running. Either way, volunteer managers, and coordinators want to know how to engage this new crop of short-term volunteers.

As Volunteer Toronto’s Training Coordinator, I meet a lot of volunteer managers and coordinators from different kinds of organizations. Some manage a few volunteers who’ve stayed on for years and years. Others bring in a thousand volunteers for two weeks and then may not see a lot of them again! In providing training and materials to help all kinds of volunteer managers do their jobs well, I’ve found the best approach is to cater to as many kinds of volunteer needs as possible.

Today, we’re releasing our newest Resource Guide & Workbook on Short-Term Volunteers. In preparing the workbook, I could see the need for this kind of information was growing as Toronto already has many festivals, single day events, short-term and seasonal volunteer activities.  You might need volunteers for your sports league that only lasts a couple of months, or you might need a lot of volunteers for a big fundraising event for one night. On top of all those events and seasonal programs, more and more volunteer managers and coordinators are seeing the value of setting up short-term projects for volunteers who want to make a big impact without a long-term commitment. How do you prepare these volunteers for their roles? And perhaps more importantly, how do you prepare your organization for short term volunteers?

To help get you started, here are a few tips straight from our new Resource Guide & Workbook:


  1. Screen every volunteer – even if the volunteer is short-term and may be contributing 6 hours on only one day, you must always find a way to screen your volunteers to make sure it’s a good fit – get help from existing or program volunteers to conduct phone interviews or better review applications

  2. Train every volunteer – while not every volunteer will be available for an in-person orientation, have all materials available to every volunteer through a handbook or website; you need to make sure your volunteers know and follow your basic rules and procedures and know enough about your organization and who they serve to be a good ambassador

  3. Supervise every volunteer – if your event or activity has more than a handful of volunteers, it could be very difficult to provide supervision for all of them; make sure you have senior volunteers, staff, board members and/or others you can rely on to supervise and oversee volunteer operations.

Knowing where your organization – and your volunteer program – stands in working with short-term volunteers can help you engage more of them, in ways that are both rewarding for them and helpful for your organization.

To learn more about how to deal with the challenges of engaging short-term volunteers, get better prepared for engaging them effectively, and learn some promising practices from Toronto organizations, check out our brand new Resource Guide & Workbook on Short-Term Volunteers – FREE for all Volunteer Toronto Subscribers!

Not a subscriber? Find out how subscribing to Volunteer Toronto can help you achieve volunteer management greatness!

As Volunteer Toronto's Training Coordinator, Sammy develops and delivers in-person, online and on-demand training in order to support managers and coordinators of volunteers in Toronto’s non-profit and charitable organizations. 

Tags:  Short-Term Volunteers  supervising volunteers  volunteer engagement  Volunteer Management  volunteer program  volunteer recognition  Volunteer Retention  volunteer training 

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Making the Change to Volunteer Management Software a Success for ALL

Posted By Volunteer Toronto, October 20, 2015
Updated: October 20, 2015
Estimated reading time -  5 minutes


Ever buy a tech product, like software, and then feel like you were left to your lonesome to figure out how to make it work or set it up? Don’t you just wish with some product purchases that you had more guidance and direction right after that purchase so you could feel better supported and armed with the confidence needed to make the best use of that software solution?

If you said ‘no’ then I will applaud you with a slow clap because you fall into that upper echelon of society that just ‘gets it.’ For the better majority of us, that transition from the software purchase to now figuring out how to use it (and use it in the best way), isn’t always an easy one. Prior to choosing your software solution you may have been using paper to manage your volunteer program or spreadsheets or perhaps you are transitioning from another software product that didn’t fully meet your volunteer program needs. Whichever scenario relates to you, the point is there is a change on the horizon and managing yourself, your team, and your volunteers through that change is a critical stage to the success of the implementation of the volunteer management software solution that was selected.

We all have different learning curves and some may just be steeper than others. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn how to best use it. You may just need a friendly helping hand!

This is why, at Better Impact, we have a consultative step in place to successfully aid you and your team throughout the onboarding stage. It is a critical step!

Organizations come in all shapes and sizes and Volunteer Managers/Coordinators come to the table with an array of experience and sector knowledge; thus we cannot treat all organizations the same.

Rob Bonesteel, at Better Impact, is your team’s direct contact throughout the onboarding stage. Rob is a Certified Volunteer Administrator with over 20 years of industry experience. He brings his years of experience and understanding of sector and program-based best practices to you so that you can most efficiently operate your volunteer program within the software.

Here’s what Rob Bonesteel has to say about how he helps the various organizations that he’s supporting throughout the onboarding stage:

Photo of Rob Bonesteel“In my role at Better Impact I see the entire range of volunteer managers, from those that have a solid process of management that is so rigid it is painful for them to adapt to using new tools, to organizations that are hoping our software will give them processes because they have no formal process in place. The consultation time we give to these organizations is what brings these things to light.

For those that have no process in place, I will build into our time together just how the system is/can be used and how that can help them establish processes. For those that are so rigid in their processes, I use a similar tact, which is getting them to talk about their processes and evaluate where the weaknesses of their processes are (i.e. time-consuming paper management). Then I will talk about my experiences and show them how Volunteer Impact can facilitate what they are doing without degrading the integrity of their processes.

The reality is there is no organization that has absolutely mastered volunteer engagement and it is a dynamic experience, which requires growth and adaptability. That’s why “We’re here to help!”

At Better Impact, we are more than just a company that produces volunteer management software. We are a global team, headquartered in Canada (Hamilton, Ontario), which is made up of people who have managed volunteers, are volunteers, present around the world to organizations at workshops and conferences for leaders of volunteers. We are comprised of consultants who work with leaders of volunteers and volunteer agencies to continually help move the voluntary sector forward. Our combined experience, knowledge of industry  best practices, understanding of the ongoing needs of the voluntary sector and changes in technology is what enables Better Impact to produce superior volunteer management software for you that is priced for the non-profit sector.

Images of the Better Impact software 

We invite you and your team to evaluate our volunteer management software and connect with us at Better Impact. If you are a full subscriber with Volunteer Toronto, you have the added benefit of getting our software at a discounted rate. In fact, on November 3rd, we will be hosting an online lunch N' learn live webinar with Volunteer Toronto for those interested in our software. Reserve your online seat here.

If you can’t make November 3rd, you can schedule your personal software demo with me or if you’d simply like to go over a few questions you have about the software, please schedule a phone appointment with me.


When Brandi was a Volunteer Coordinator for the 2003 World Cycling Championships in Hamilton, ON, she utilized the Volunteer Impact software product to manage over 1,000 volunteers. Now with Better Impact for over three years, she supports organizations as they evaluate the Volunteer Impact solution for their organization’s needs. She utilizes her experiences of working with volunteers and being a volunteer with a number of organizations to best assist organizations in finding the software solution that meets their needs and supporting them as they make that transition.


Tags:  people management  Volunteer Management  volunteer management software  volunteer management tools 

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Advice For A New Volunteer Manager - Jade Pichette

Posted By Volunteer Toronto, October 15, 2015
Updated: October 14, 2015

In the lead-up to International Volunteer Managers Day on November 5th, we decided to help the novices in the field with a little advice from those who remember what it's like to be new at Volunteer Management. 

Every Thursday until November 5th we'll be releasing a new episode! 

Check out our third installment with advice from Jade Pichette, Volunteer and Community Outreach Coordinator at Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives

What advice would you give? Write your thoughts in the comments section below.

Tags:  advice  supervising volunteers  The6ix  tips  volunteer coordination  volunteer engagement  Volunteer Management  volunteer program  volunteerism 

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Advice For A New Volunteer Manager - Natalia Dziubaniwsky

Posted By Volunteer Toronto, October 8, 2015

In the lead-up to International Volunteer Managers Day on November 5th, we decided to help the novices in the field with a little advice from those who remember what it's like to be new at Volunteer Management. 

Every Thursday until November 5th we'll be releasing a new episode! 

Check out our second installment with advice from Natalia Dziubaniwsky, Supervisor, Volunteers & Communications at ESS Support Services


What advice would you give? Write your thoughts in the comments section below!

Tags:  advice  Human resources  relationships  supervising volunteers  tips  volunteer engagement  Volunteer Management  Volunteering  volunteering in Toronto 

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Advice For A New Volunteer Manager - Tia Clark

Posted By Volunteer Toronto, October 1, 2015
Updated: September 30, 2015
In the lead-up to International Volunteer Managers Day on November 5th, we decided to help the novices in the field with a little advice from those who remember what it's like to be new at Volunteer Management.

Every Thursday until November 5th we'll be releasing a new episode! 

Advice from Tia Clark, Volunteer Manager at 416 Community Support for Women

What advice would you give? Write your thoughts in the comments section below.

This post has not been tagged.

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How to “Not” Fire a Volunteer

Posted By Kasandra James, Subscriptions Coordinator, September 28, 2015

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

“How to Fire a Volunteer” is always a hot topic for volunteer managers and coordinators, and the September 23rd Subscriber Circle was no exception. A large group of volunteer managers turned out to discuss how best to go about firing volunteers. The only problem – no one actually wants to fire their volunteers! In an industry that’s constantly recruiting people for the cause, letting someone go is the complete opposite of the voluntary sector’s objectives.

As a result, the majority of the Subscriber Circle discussion focused on how to do everything possible not to fire a volunteer. The group shared interesting stories of performance problems, discussed how they tackled the daunting task of retaining troublesome volunteers and, in very few cases, the steps they took when it was time to let a volunteer go.

So instead of “How to Fire a Volunteer”, here’s a Volunteer Manager’s “How to NOT Fire a Volunteer” list.

  1. Focus on Prevention
    The first step to preventing dismissal due to poor performance is ensuring that volunteers learn to do things right from the start. Volunteers who have a clear understanding of their responsibilities, agree to a code of conduct, receive the proper training and are supervised appropriately are less likely to have performance issues.

  2. Diagnose Symptoms of Poor Performance
    When a volunteer does perform poorly it’s important to try to understand the cause of that behaviour. Find out if your volunteer understands their job requirements and whether they feel equipped to complete that job. Volunteer Managers must also pay attention to the “human factor” and how events in a person’s life can affect their performance levels.

  3. Take Action Geared to Retention
    As the first goal is always to retain volunteers, taking corrective action is a major component of any “how to not fire” plan.  Once an area for improvement has been identified, volunteer managers have a responsibility to help poorly performing volunteers improve. This plan should target the reasons for poor performance, have specific improvement objectives and establish check-points and timelines for improvement. 

  4. Get Creative with Alternatives
    If volunteer performance fails to improve despite best efforts, but dismissal still feels like an extreme course of action, it’s time to find some creative alternatives. Sometimes volunteers just aren’t a fit for their roles; find alternative avenues of service that coincide with volunteer strengths and skills. For volunteers with personal issues influencing their ability to perform their volunteer role, a vacation or suspension may be appropriate. If you think that a volunteer does not value the organization’s mission, consider referring them to another organization that they would be more suited to work with.

  5. When All Else Fails, Fire the Volunteer
    When every possible effort has been taken to retain a volunteer and the situation continues to decline; don’t be afraid to make the decision to dismiss. It is important to make dismissal a formal process, much like recruitment or training. There should also be clear rules outlining when it is time to dismiss a volunteer and how the dismissal should be handled. The dismissal of volunteers who work closely with clients or other volunteers may create a sense of uncertainty, which needs to be managed in order to maintain the efficacy of the program.

While many participants in the discussion made it clear that making the decision to fire a volunteer isn’t easy, one volunteer manager made a point that I believe resonated well with the entire group: it’s okay to say NO. Even in the voluntary sector, it’s acceptable, and sometimes necessary to make the decision not to work with a volunteer who doesn’t reflect the vision and mission of your organization.

Until that point of no return, volunteer managers will focus on recruiting, training and retaining volunteers to support their cause.


What do you think? To get in on the discussion, join the next Subscriber Circle, where we will be discussing Volunteer Orientation.

Not subscribed with Volunteer Toronto? Check out the many benefits of being a Full Subscriber and register here.

  As Volunteer Toronto’s Subscriptions Coordinator, Kasandra is the first point of contact for non-profits looking for support.
She facilitates monthly Subscriber Circle discussion groups for managers and coordinators of volunteers, contributes to our
Sector Space newsletter and social media communications, and makes sure our subscriptions package continues to help
non-profit organizations build capacity through volunteer involvement.


Tags:  Conflict Resolution  Problem Volunteers  volunteer engagement  Volunteer help  Volunteer Management 

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10 Sector Insights on Supervising Offsite Volunteers

Posted By Kasandra James, Subscriptions Coordinator, August 26, 2015
Updated: September 2, 2015

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes  

I find it fitting that this month’s subscriber circle on Supervising Off-Site Volunteers was effectively “off-site”. A group of volunteer managers and coordinators gathered at West Toronto Support Services to discuss how they tackle issues that arise from working with volunteers they can’t always supervise in-person, and to share their experiences and ideas with others who understand their challenges.

The group covered several topics including risk assessment, policies and guidelines for off-site volunteers, performance reviews, volunteer feedback and volunteer recognition and motivation.  They shared their ideas on tackling the unique challenge of supervising work they can’t always oversee, and provided each other with a series of strategies to address off-site volunteer supervision. 

I learned a lot during the session and thought I’d share my top-ten insights here:

Before volunteering begins:

  1. Know the level of risk involved in the position, and plan supervision accordingly. The higher the risk, the greater the level of supervision needed.
  2. Be aware of legislation and policies that can affect your off-site volunteers and the clients they will interact with. Rules around vulnerable clients may affect the level of supervision required in some volunteer programs.
  3. Be clear about the roles and responsibilities of the volunteer position. Use orientation and training to reinforce boundaries and position requirements, and don’t hesitate to give refreshers when necessary.

Creative ways to supervise off-site volunteers:

  1. Mix and match your supervision methods. Check-in calls, activity logs and email questionnaires can be as valuable as formal performance reviews.
  2. Recruit volunteer Team Leaders, staff and clients to help. Utilize these sources both to oversee day-to-day programs and to help the review of volunteer performance.
  3. Always leave room for volunteer feedback, whether it’s with a suggestion box, a comments section in the activity logs, or a call to find out how a volunteer is doing.

Effective (and fun) ways to recognize off-site volunteers and keep them motivated:

  1. Keep track of positive feedback from clients so you can let the volunteer know when their work is appreciated. It can help the volunteer feel valued, and it lets them know that you understand how important they are for the clients they work with.   
  2. Have a coffee break. Meet with off-site volunteers occasionally for coffee and treats to say “thanks for a doing a good job”. You can also arrange group meetings, where your volunteers can gather together to network and socialize.
  3. Throw a potluck: Nothing brings people together like food! Host a potluck for your off-site volunteers where they can reconnect with your mission. Use this opportunity to educate and engage your volunteers with a guest speaker or a panel discussion on topics that interest them.
  4. Just say thanks!  Volunteer Canada’s 2013 Volunteer Recognition Study found that overwhelmingly, volunteers prefer to be thanked in person and to know the impact that their involvement is having.  Find a way to give your off-site volunteers that personal “Thank You”.

This incredible group of volunteer managers weren’t afraid to critique different approaches, outlining the pros and cons of different strategies and giving each other valuable feedback and encouragement. We even had a friendly disagreement on whether positive reinforcement or reprimands were the better way to tackle low volunteer performance.

Do you think negative consequences are necessary when volunteer performance slips? What do you do when it’s time (if ever) to let a volunteer go? Bring your thoughts to our next Subscriber Circle: How to Fire a Volunteer.

If you aren’t a Volunteer Toronto Full Subscriber, sign up today, and join in the discussion!

  As Volunteer Toronto’s Subscriptions Coordinator, Kasandra is the first point of contact for non-profits looking for support.
She facilitates monthly Subscriber Circle discussion groups for managers and coordinators of volunteers, contributes to our
Sector Space newsletter and social media communications, and makes sure our subscriptions package continues to help
non-profit organizations build capacity through volunteer involvement.


Tags:  supervising volunteers  volunteer engagement  Volunteer Management  volunteer recognition  volunteers 

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