3 Rules for Managing Volunteers

Posted on 12/01/2021

One of the best ways to strengthen relationships between your organization and alumni is to engage alumni as volunteers. There are many different roles that they can play: they can sit on advisory committees, help conduct interviews during the student recruitment process, serve as mentors and provide career advice to recent graduates, plan and host events and other activities, or simply serve as ambassadors by sharing updates and posting news about the institution through their own networks.

Anyone who has worked with volunteers knows that it can take a big effort. And if you’re not organized and prepared, it can end up being a negative experience for alumni, defeating the entire purpose of their engagement. Here are three simple rules that will make managing alumni volunteers easier on you and more rewarding for them.

  1. Tell them what to do. Your volunteers can’t read your mind, so be clear about what it is that you need from them. Start by creating a job description that they can review before signing on. Don’t overwhelm them with too many expectations. Keep it simple and focus on the 3-5 most important things they can do to be helpful. The process of writing the job description itself is also valuable for you, as it will force you to identify what’s really needed. Then be sure to talk through the job description with volunteers on a call or in a meeting. Encourage them to ask questions. Doing so will help ensure that they understand and will embrace the role.
  2. Give them the tools to do it. Don’t assume that your volunteers already have the necessary equipment to perform their tasks. Provide them with resources that make their work easier and help them represent your institution in the best—and most consistent—way. Give them sample text to use in their email correspondence, talking points to reference during conversations with peers, and samples of communications that your department has sent out recently.
  3. Acknowledge when they’ve done it. Nothing is more motivating than positive feedback. Celebrating the accomplishments of your most dedicated alumni volunteers by recognizing them at events or with distinguished awards can be very powerful, but don’t underestimate the value of simple gestures. A short email, a handwritten note, or just a pat on the back to thank them for giving their time and ideas can be extremely motivating. At the same time, be sure to talk with them about the impact of their work. Remember, they’re not getting paid. Letting volunteers know that their efforts are recognized and making a difference is often all they need to feel like their time is being well spent.

Engaging alumni as volunteers—and making sure that their experience is meaningful and rewarding—will not only help your institution by giving it an extra hand (and mind) to carry out critical work; it can also provide graduates with an experience that, if positive, will strengthen their bond and commitment to their alma mater.


This article has been adapted from the book Ideas for Annual Giving by Dan Allenby. Copyright (c) 2016 Council for Advancement and Support of Education. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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