Maximize How You Delegate to Volunteers (and Others!)

Delegate to volunteers

So, you want to get some items off your to-do list but you don’t know how to effectively delegate to volunteers. That’s exactly why Volunteer Peterborough welcomed 20 people to a training session on March 28.

We all have so much we want to do yet we resist letting go of tasks we enjoy or want done a certain way. By the end of a full-day session with Clearview Training and Consulting, each participant left with a detailed plan for one key task.

Now, you can learn how to delegate to volunteers better too.

First, let’s acknowledge that this skill doesn’t come easily. In some cases, you’ve asked for help before and the results fell short of expectations. Or perhaps that you had to answer so many questions that it seemed easier to do it yourself.

  • 80 percent of people say they need help
  • 66 percent of them don’t feel they delegate enough
  • 89 percent of people say they are too busy to delegate (making them even busier!)

Only 10 percent of people do it well, according to trainer Gary MacDonald. However, “it is life-changing when you get it right,” he says.

Setting the tone to delegate to volunteers

Before you delegate to volunteers, it helps to plan out the request and the transfer of information. As a result, the person will understand the mission and why it matters.

You’ll get a better response if you explain how the task will achieve a larger goal, not just getting it off your desk. Think about how it aligns with the organization’s mission so you can impart that strategic vision.

Next, clearly define the work ahead based on two criteria:

  • Means: how they will do this work – by calling meetings, working a certain number of hours or leading other volunteers
  • Result: what tangible you’ll get – a recommendation, report or action based on specific metrics; or a change in conditions, like finding a way to do things better

When tasks get assigned, they often come without a target, clarity, timeline or budget.

Make sure you’ve prepared to give clear details about expectations when you delegate to volunteers:

  • Timelines (schedule of phases, clear deadlines)
  • Budget (cost for research, staff time, graphic design or other expenses)
  • Quality (change in supplier or approach that affects outcome)
  • Quantity (number of items needed or affected)
  • Authority (freedom to make decisions or who to consult when)
  • Priority (whether it displaces other work or not)
  • Resources (budget, time of other staff, consultants, etc.)

Which volunteer will you delegate to?

Once you have the task clearly defined, who will you trust to take it on? Take a few minutes to select the best fit via a risk analysis.

Begin by listing the key activities, then the skills and knowledge required to complete them. This includes technical skills and the understanding of the people the delegatee will deal with in the office and beyond.

Next, write down the names of people who could step up. Do they have the expertise that you need? If not, you may feel tempted to simply do it yourself. Resist this urge! Instead, create a plan to bridge the gap.

For instance, if you could schedule regular check-ins to make sure the person stays on track. This allows you to adjust their plans while using less of your time. Remember to give enough freedom so they can make it their own while working within agreed-open parameters.

When you ask them to pick up the torch, explain why you chose them to take on this mission. Then give them the go-ahead to do the best they can do. Make sure they understand that you can answer questions as needed – for both of you to feel comfortable.

Start a two-way conversation

During this discussion, consider these factors:

  • What positive examples can you give to express confidence in the person’s ability to complete the task?
  • Are they exuding reluctance, enthusiasm or lack of confidence?
  • What concerns do they have about you or the assignment?

By reading these signals, you can address any misgivings and get them off on the right footing.

As you wrap up the discussion, check that they understand what you want. Ideally, the person can explain the goal and parameters of the project. This indicates that they know the resources they have handy and when to consult with you. Feel free to include a checklist if it helps delineate the process and its timelines.

Finally, ask if the person accepts this mission. This marks the official transfer of ownership from you to them.

The benefits of delegating

Sharing work does much than distributing tasks. It also develops future leaders within organizations, whether they are staff or volunteers.

By delegating to volunteers, you open up the possibility for more innovation based on a new outlook. You also show confidence and trust in individuals who will take pride in rising to the challenge. As you build their skills, they can take on even more.

Watch for more training opportunities with Volunteer Peterborough. On May 8, we host a session on connecting and inspiring volunteers – right after our inaugural Meet Your Match Volunteer Fair. This free session takes place at the YMCA at 4:30 p.m. so come to the show then stick around!

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