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This Month's Responses

June 1999

Volunteer Managers and the Time Management Trap

By Andy Fryar

This month we are pleased to offer a guest hot topic writer: Andy Fryar from Australia. Andy has been a responder to past hot topics and e-mailed me personally about his observations on how we manage our time in this field. I invited him to write up his thoughts and here they are. Thank you, Andy! --- Susan Ellis

Recently I was asked to chair a Volunteer Managers Network meeting in the absence of the regular chairperson. During the week prior to the meeting a number of members phoned to inform me that they were unable to attend. Spending a few minutes speaking to each I found the reason in every case to be the same - they were just too busy at present and simply could not spare the time.

Several days later I was in the office of a colleague at the time she was locking up for the day. After switching off the various electrical equipment and securing the windows, she proceeded to collect enough papers, files and folders from her desk to sink the Titanic - explaining as we walked to the front door that this was her daily homework in order to catch up before the next day!!!

I was left thinking about the factors which determine the need for some people to skip networking opportunities and home life simply to keep up with their workload, while managers of other (often much larger) volunteer programs seem to be able to breeze through their work with relative ease.

In addition, managers of other areas and departments often seem to absorb their extra work with an apparent lack of concern. We could hypothesize that this is due to these areas being product- (as opposed to people-) focused, that individuals working in these areas are better versed in time management practices or, quite simply, that other areas are better resourced, and therefore better able to cope with these added pressures.

While these may all be partially true, it is my opinion that the problem for many volunteer projects is that they still operate very much in a mode of crisis management.

This seems to be particularly true for successful small to middle sized volunteer programs, where the number of volunteers has grown slowly - due largely to the individual and personal attention which the volunteer manager has lavished upon each team member. The individual needs of volunteers often need to be met with immediacy, and often in the midst of a myriad of other activities.

As these programs expand (with their corresponding growth in both the legal requirements to operate a volunteer program and the reporting requirements of funding bodies), the Volunteer Administrator is left in a quandary. The practice of continuing a good, close knit relationship with each and every volunteer team member becomes more and more difficult - even impossible.

So where does time management come into all of this?
I believe that effective time management is the key to not only finding the successful blend between the needs of the volunteers and the volunteer program, but more importantly to avoiding burn out of volunteer program managers.

The first thing we all need to do is ask ourselves questions about where our priorities lie in relation to the effective management of our time. For example, do you drop everything every time a volunteer knocks on your door with a problem, or do you have no time for volunteers and their concerns at all? Perhaps you fit somewhere in between? Only an honest analysis of this situation will enable you to develop appropriate strategies to make your workplace a more effective and productive environment.

Secondly we need to develop ways in which we can manage our time effectively to achieve our organizational goals while at the same time meeting our own personal goals and the intrinsic needs of our volunteer workforce. A simple analysis of our work practices to determine what we spend the majority of our time doing, coupled with the question "Is this the best use of my time?", will help create a starting point for time management reform in your workplace.

There are many time management ideas and strategies that can easily be developed and implemented in volunteer programs of all shapes and sizes. While I use many of these myself I have resisted the temptation to publish a list at this point. Rather, Id like to challenge you all to respond to this essay and share your own thoughts with the rest of us:

  • Do you agree that time management is an issue? What other factors contribute to this being an issue?
  • What practical time management tips and advice do you have to share?

I'm sure that we all have great ideas that will benefit others in the field. Finally let me leave you with a thought: We need to always be mindful that our performance will only ever be viewed as mediocre if we set mediocre standards - and the easiest way to set mediocre standards is to try and be everything for everyone.

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Have you read Susan's books? She's authored 14!

Cover of BookThe Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook

Just released! Understand the concept of virtual volunteering and integrate online service into all volunteer involvement.


From the Top Down

Outlines the key executive decisions necessary to lay the foundation for effective volunteer involvement: policies, budgeting, staffing, employee-volunteer relationships, legal issues, cost and value of volunteers, and more. Revised in 2010


By the PeopleBy the People: A History of Americans as Volunteers

Newly revised and updated, this book remains the only presentation of the full scope and depth of volunteer activity throughout three centuries of American history.


Volunteer Management Audit
A validating tool for analyzing the effectiveness of an organization's volunteer management practices, with complete Scoresheets and instructions to conduct the process successfully.


Book coverChildren as Volunteers

How to integrate volunteers under the age of 14 into an existing adult volunteer program: multi-age teams, designing work, preparing the agency, liaisoning with schools, and legal issues.


Book coverThe (Help!) I-Don't-Have-Enough-Time Guide to Volunteer Management

Managing a volunteer program part-time? Or just not enough hours in a day? Full task analysis of the job of volunteer program manager, how to build a management team and engage volunteers in leadership of the program.


Book coverLeading the Way to Successful Volunteer Involvement: Practical Tools for Busy Executives

A set of checklists, worksheets, idea stimulators, and other practical guides for senior-level leaders to incorporate volunteer involvement as a key ingredient in the overall strategy of an organization.


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