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Volunteer Coordinator

What They Do

Insider Info

Volunteer coordinators recruit, train and supervise volunteers. They ensure that the volunteers contribute to the organization's overall mandate and goals.

"Shaping a shared vision and mission, matching volunteer talents with satisfying assignments, guiding volunteers to success and building leadership within the volunteer corps" is how the Association for Volunteer Administration (AVA) defines the job.

Most volunteer coordinators work for nonprofit organizations or charities. These can include social service agencies, arts organizations and advocacy groups.

Others work in the public sector or in health care.

When the AVA began in 1960, there weren't too many training options for volunteer coordinators, says Katie Campbell. She is the former executive director of the AVA.

"There were really no books, no conferences, no courses, no places where you could go to learn the job. When I first got into it in the early 1970s, everybody was sort of flying by the seat of their pants."

Today, there are dozens of related books, websites, networking groups and conferences. These allow volunteer coordinators to share ideas. They can develop standard procedures and techniques.

Ruth Mackenzie is the senior program manager for a national organization that promotes volunteerism. She says coordinators need to stay on top of changing trends. There might be increasing competition for volunteers. People might decide to volunteer for different reasons. People also may start looking for a new kind of volunteer work.

Mackenzie notes that volunteer coordinators have to find new ways to recruit volunteers. They need to offer volunteers a chance to develop some skills. Coordinators must also be flexible, since people don't always have time to give. It's also important to find new kinds of work for volunteers to do.

Making volunteers feel appreciated is just as crucial as recruiting them. That's according to Jordi Valdes. He has served as a volunteer coordinator for music and film festivals.

"Volunteers have a lot of other things going on in their lives and are giving of their extra time," he points out. "It is extremely important for an organization or coordinator to ensure they know that you care and are not just trying to fill positions with bodies."

Coordinators need to understand what makes people tick. They must also see their work in the broader scheme of things. "In the old days," says Campbell, "we were really focused on basic management tasks: recruiting, supervising, keeping records.

"Now we realize there are a bunch of other targeted skills we need to know."

Those targeted skills include learning how to build partnerships and how to work with the media.

"You need to be a people person," says Valdes. "Have compassion, patience, good communication skills as well as computer skills -- since most of your information goes into databases -- good phone skills and good public speaking skills."

Above all, volunteer coordinators must be committed to the cause.

"You have to basically be an optimistic person," says Campbell. "People only work out of optimism, and you can't fake that. You have to be passionate and enthusiastic about the potential of people to contribute."

"The best part of doing this job is the different people you get to meet and interact with," says Valdes. "People from all walks of life, all races and all ages."

Mackenzie says that people with disabilities could do this job, so long as they are available to work at different hours. Overtime is not generally required, but there is some evening and weekend work. "The key word is 'flexible,'" says Mackenzie. "This is still generally a daytime job."

At a Glance

Recruit and train people who donate their time

  • Most work for nonprofit organizations or charities
  • You need compassion, patience and good communication skills
  • Specific training programs are available