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Trust: The Unseen Component of Your Volunteer Program

Our ability to trust has been compromised on so many levels since September 11 that I guess it was natural that a lunchtime conversation with one of my very wise volunteers would turn to trust, and how it is created and sustained between an agency and its volunteer staff.

My volunteer, Lucille, reminded me that a volunteer applies to an agency based on trust (of the agency’s perceived reputation) and the relationship builds from that starting point. From the first moment a volunteer enters our agency’s front door, we are given the unique opportunity to build an enduring trust

Do you make a conscious effort to build trust between your agency and your volunteer? What are the criteria for measuring “the trust factor” that exists between you and your volunteer staff?

Management expert Philippe Denichaud refers to the “four pillars of trust” that exist between a business and its staff: intent, propriety, competence and commonality. We can adapt these concepts in order to help us build strong pillars of trust with our volunteers.

Pillar Number One: Get to know your volunteer and help them know you and your agency’s mission. 

Trust is built on an on-going acquisition of knowledge. The most basic component of any good relationship is getting to know someone.

The interview: Take time to ask open-ended questions and encourage your volunteer to ask questions about the volunteer program and your agency. Make your volunteer program mission statement and volunteer guidebook part of every orientation. Within your comfort level, tell them a little about yourself and let them see how likeable you are and how much you want every volunteer to have a happy experience at your agency.

On-going communication: As time passes, take time to talk to your volunteer, to remember their birthday and the anniversary of volunteering at your agency. Keep the flow of information coming to your volunteers with newsletters, meetings and information on your voice mail.

Pillar Number Two: Tell them precisely what your expectations are when they perform their assignment as part of your volunteer staff.

Trust is built on understanding. Give them a complete picture of what volunteers do at your agency, including your annual report that includes hours contributed and types of assignments.

Today: Show them your bulletin board of photos of volunteer supported activities. And of course, give them a copy of their position description to keep and refer to even after their initial training is completed. Their schedule and responsibilities and your responsibilities to them should be clearly delineated in their volunteer letter of agreement.

As time goes on: Remember to give them a yearly evaluation. When I tried doing evaluations using a form (even with a cute graphic) my volunteers were uncomfortable. Now instead I send them an end-of-year letter highlighting their individual contributions in the context of the volunteer program.

Pillar Number Three: Keep your word and follow through on your commitments so your volunteers will know you care about them as part of the agency.

Trust is built on repeatedly consistent performance of promised actions. Do what you say you’re going to do and do it on time.

Turn a frown upside down: If you are unable to do so, call your volunteer and follow up with a note. Be absolutely credible and set an example for your developing relationship. If you goof up, say so and apologize.

Pillar Number Four: Share positive experiences.

Trust is enhanced when you work and learn together. Have in-service training with a lunch or dinner quarterly if you can.

Make your agency a place to serve and learn: Create a lending library of magazines, books and videos that volunteers can borrow. Have fun and work together on a project, whether it’s revising your volunteer guidebook or a party that will enable you to share experiences. Devise a way to measure the results so you can better understand your individual problem solving methods and create a report together.

As we continually re-assess how effectively we’re supporting these pillars with our actions and words, we can build an atmosphere of trust within our volunteer program that will benefit our volunteers, our clients and our agency. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice rings true across the years: “trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.”

 

About the Contributor: Susan Moscareillo

Susan Moscareillo is Director of Volunteer Services and Community Relations for the Baltimore Ronald McDonald House. Prior to beginning her work at BRMH, she was Director of Volunteer Services for the Maryland Society for Sight and Director of Public Relations and Fund Raising for Camp Fire Girls Council of the Chesapeake. Since 2002, she has been a member of the Contributors Panel for Volunteer Management Review at the Charity Channel on-line.

Before entering the nonprofit world, her work experience included television creative services writing and newspaper feature writing.

Susan has a degree in Mass Communications from Towson University, and a Certificate in Volunteer Management from Washington State University and a Certificate of Excellence in Nonprofit Leadership and Management from the University of Wisconsin.

Susan is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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