Delegation

Tips for sharing work effectively, especially with volunteers.

12 Basic Needs of Every Volunteer, Helen Little, Volunteers: How to Get Them, How to Keep Them, pp. 44-45, Panacea Press, 1999
Consultation/Listening, Debra Allcock Tyler, 56-58, Directory of Social Change, 2006
Demand Excellence, Dr. Bill Wittich, pp. 43-44, Knowledge Transfer Publishing, 2002
Eight Myths About Difficult Volunteers, Sue Vineyard, New Competencies for Volunteer Administrators, pp. 92-93, Heritage Arts Publishing, 1996
Firing a Volunteer, Jay Hostetler
Greetings And Communications, Veronica Knight, Glen W. White, and A. Katherine Froehlich, Training Manual for Working with Youth Volunteers Who Have Disabilities
Maintaining Communication Linkages with Volunteers, Steve McCurley and Rick Lynch, pp. 149-50, INTERPUB Group, 2011
Older Volunteers Aging in Place, Jarene Frances Lee with Julia M. Catagnus, p.108, Energize, Inc, 1999
Online Information Overload -- and How to Cope, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2010
Practicing What We Preach: Volunteers Helping Us, Too, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2012
Providing a Sense of Control to Volunteers, Steve McCurley and Rick Lynch, pp. 44-5, Fat Cat Publications, 2005
Reprimanding Volunteers, Steve McCurley and Sue Vineyard, Heritage Arts Publishing/VMSystems
Stop Volunteers from Being Their Own Worst Enemies, Susan J. Ellis, Energize Hot Topic, 2013
When to Fire a Volunteer, John Carroll
Who Supervises?, James C. Fisher and Kathleen M. Cole, Leadership and Management of Volunteer Programs, pp.120-121, Jossey-Bass, 1993
Developed by the National Service Resource Center to help front-line supervisors in all kinds of community service programs. The guide was drawn from three major sources of information: a comprehensive needs assessment; views of supervisors who participated in Supervisory Skills Workshops; and literature of specialists in the fields of supervision, management, and community participation.
Building Skills to Supervise Volunteers

Presentation by Amy Mayfield at the 2000 International Conservation Science and Stewardship Conference (PowerPoint slides).

Volunteering England's Best Practice Section on Support and Supervision

A variety of practical articles, links and sample materials.

Print and e-Books in Our Store

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Is managing volunteers only part of your job? Or just not enough hours in a day? Learn to build a management team and and feel some relief from carrying the whole weight of leading volunteer involvement alone.

Explores the values of responsible delegation and teaches procedures and techniques for doing it well.

Supervising Volunteers

Advice, wisdom, and experience from over 85 real-life, on-the-job supervisors of volunteers: crystal clear analysis of what works and what doesn't in supervision.

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Challenges conventional wisdom about boards, fundraising, and membership development when applied to grassroots volunteer efforts. Includes great group interaction exercises.

Quick Tips from Susan J. Ellis

Successful Delegation
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

One of the most important skills needed to be effective in working with volunteers (or, for that matter, in working with paid colleagues and even members of your family) is that of delegation. Here are some reminders of what it takes to share work successfully, adapted from a section on delegation in The (Help!) I-Don't-Have-Enough-Time Guide to Volunteer Management (now available in the Amazon Kindle store):


One of the most important skills needed to be effective in working with volunteers (or, for that matter, in working with paid colleagues and even members of your family) is that of delegation. Here are some reminders of what it takes to share work successfully, adapted from a section on delegation in The (Help!) I-Don't-Have-Enough-Time Guide to Volunteer Management (now available in the Amazon Kindle store):


  • Recruit the most appropriate person (or team) genuinely willing to handle the task. Don't fall into the trap of settling for the nearest available warm body.
  • Discuss the work to be done in detail, negotiate how it will be done (as well as the end product), and then create a written assignment description.
  • Define your role in relation to the delegated project, too.
  • Tasks you assign to others should be concrete and manageable, with clearly-defined timeframes and deadlines. Define complex tasks in stages, so that people can feel a sense of achievement as each benchmark is reached.
  • Tell the truth about the time required to do the job properly and your expectations for when it should be finished. Similarly, whenever possible, assign the whole task at once, rather than revealing something new each week.
  • Give people titles to match the responsibility they will be handling, and then consistently refer to these titles yourself.
  • Give the person/team information that sets the task into context. People work more intelligently when they understand how their activities mesh with the activities of others, or how a new task builds on a previous one and, in turn, brings the organization closer to its goals.
  • Identify and provide access to resources and materials the person/group can use to get the job done.
  • Never underestimate the importance of good instructions. A basic part of training, instructions are the key to starting a job. Do not assume that anyone, particularly a volunteer, is completely familiar with your office procedures, policies, legal regulations, or anything else affecting a task. Instructions can include samples of similar work; knowing how something was done in the past is a great beginning point for a new job.
  • Discuss some alternate contingency plans, should an original tactic not be successful.
  • Set limits: At what point must you be consulted or involved, approve expenditures, receive progress reports?
  • Remove limits: Encourage people to exercise creativity and initiative in those areas where there are no hard and fast rules to be followed, or where you feel they have adequate expertise.
  • Develop a reporting plan: How often and in what form (e-mail, phone, face-to-face in person or online with webcam) will you communicate with each other about progress? Negotiate the frequency of contact necessary to offer mutual feedback and support.
    • Do not ignore silence (and don't be silent yourself). Communication is the most important element in a successful collaboration. It allows both of you to feel that you are on track and, if a problem arises, it will not fester. Volunteers feel more appreciated when they know you are aware of their efforts.
  • Once you've delegated, don't undercut the independence of the team member. For example, refer all questions about the delegated project to the person responsible.
  • Make it a condition of starting a task that the volunteer commit to training his/her successor or replacement. Though this may not always work perfectly because of the frequent time lag between needing a volunteer and finding one, people should know they are expected to help assure a project's continuity. Therefore they might even return to your organization for a day or two to help train the new team member. Another strategy is to ask team members to keep a written record of their procedures that can be passed on to their successors. None of us wants to think our hard work will be lost indefinitely, so passing the torch is satisfying.
  • When you begin a new delegation, set a time to meet or talk again fairly soon. This appointment provides an incentive to the team member to make some progress by then and gives you the opportunity to assure yourself that things are off to a good start.