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Volunteer Policies and Control

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    • #135234
      Lindsay Schettler

      Hello there and sorry this is long,

      I have a few issues currently that I need guidance/advice on. I have one volunteer who has been volunteering for our library for several years under supervision of her best friend and now retired library director. Our university library and special collections currently has a new library director (2.5 years), and two librarians, one being myself who started 1.5 years ago. We staff two part-time library assistants and student workers. I am the special collections librarian and only have a graduate assistant who works in special collections with me. I took on the volunteer, especially since she was dedicated to working in special collections. Our special collections is housed behind a keypad that only the three librarians know and the volunteer because she was given it by her friend, past library director. This is fine and there are no issues regarding theft or security risks, but wanted to note her status at the library. She use to be a part of the library staff meetings but volunteers are no longer a part of these under the new library director’s policy, which makes sense to me. We are trying to bring her status to volunteer level and in some ways this is challenging. Do we change the keypad security code so that only I can let her in to Special Collections when she volunteers?

      Furthermore, if she wasn’t given the keypad security code, I would have to be on campus for when she arrives? For new volunteers (we will be having a new one start in January), they will not receive the security code and I will have to be here to let them in and my presence is mandatory. This is all fine by me but it will be different for our long-time volunteer. I also will have set days and hours for volunteers to work so I am not stuck in Special Collections all the time. (I need a break too, plus I teach classes downstairs, and/or travel for work). Do I enforce new volunteer policies and have everyone who is volunteering follow them so we are all on the same page? This may be upsetting for the long-time volunteer. Can I also make it that there are breaks from when volunteers can come in, like during winter or spring breaks when the students are not in school? This would allow me to have extra time to get new projects lined up and finish up larger projects I work on over breaks.

      She already gets upset when I cannot make it to work due to my son getting sick, appointments, general human stuff that happens, or off-campus meetings. It has only happened twice in the past 1.5 years that I wasn’t able to be in my office when she is volunteering and that I didn’t inform her quick enough. She had asked that I email, so I did this. Now she was upset that I emailed her, and instead wants me to call her. So I did this, but she didn’t answer or listen to the message because she doesn’t answer strange numbers. I am not sure what my next step should be with alerting her that I won’t be in. Does anyone use a certain protocol for these type of situations?

      She also gets upset if I don’t give her something challenging enough, but when I do she is upset that it is too challenging. I don’t have enough time to provide her with several different projects to work on each month unfortunately and/or don’t feel comfortable with her working on certain projects to be honest. I can only do so much to cater to her needs, because I do want to provide her with work that she likes but sometimes the work that I need done is a bit mundane for her liking.

      Please reach out to me if you have a small archive/museum/special collections/historical society/etc. volunteer handbook and policy that may be beneficial for me to look at and provide guidance on these issues or others that I just haven’t run into. Or anyone who has advice/guidance, it would be much appreciated. I would like to start a volunteer handbook and policy, especially since we are starting to see more interest. Thank you!! TGIF!

    • #135235
      Nicole Peters

      Hi Lindsay,
      It sounds like quite a transitional time for you and your institution. Navigating the waters of new leadership, veteran volunteers, and policy changes can be tricky. I’ve reached out to some experts with volunteer managing and policy implementation. I will keep you updated when they respond!

    • #135236
      Rachel Lapkin

      Hi Lindsay,

      This type of thing is exactly as complex as you have described- even more-so when there are so many shades of grey with inheriting volunteers that are used to certain perks/ allowances/ special treatment- with no disrespect for anyone involved in that previous arrangement (these things happen!). I have been in this position, and have looked to resources like the Council of Nonprofits. But I have found that unless you start fresh (new policies, new volunteers) it is difficult to make a change. I used to track my time managing volunteers as 1:1. I decided that even if a volunteer was doing a project on their own I had to 1. prep that work and 2. check it afterwards, and 3. always be available for their needs while they were there, not to mention 4. figure out what to do if I wasn’t going to be there because of vacation or illness – this is very different from a paid staff member who reports to you for many reasons. If your management knows how much paid staff time this volunteer takes, then they can say- OK that’s fine, make it a priority to accommodate this person, or they can support you in making a change.
      I think offering a schedule that works for you, as you have suggested, including mandating breaks for you to prioritize your work makes perfect sense to me. I do think the key here is getting support from your supervisor (s), so you aren’t facing these changes without backup. I think even the most clear and fair volunteer handbook you come up with won’t make a difference with some people. And I more than understand how important and wonderful volunteers can be – and nobody wants to insult or upset anyone! But at the end of the day, you are responsible for your work and their work, and it adds up to being complicated and stressful in a place like a special collections library setting. Best of luck to you! -Rachel

    • #135243
      Carolyn Schimandle

      Having staff let a volunteer in to the collections sounds like a reasonable precaution, though I know some institutions give some volunteers greater access after training and a LiveScan or other background check. But is that the main issue? It sounds like this volunteer is a rather difficult person to work with, complicating matters. In fact, it sounds like the issues managing this personality are actually more of the problem than the actual policy. This is probably obvious, but you are going to have to stick to your guns, whatever the policy decision, being consistent and firm that this is how things are now while at the same time expressing appreciation for her time, effort, and expertise. Hopefully she will come around and respect the decisions. If not, well, she sounds like a time and energy drain and perhaps her contributions are not worth the cost. Good luck!

    • #135469
      Hannah Frederick

      This reply may be a little late, but maybe it can help.

      I have been in almost your exact situation. For many years our staff consisted of one PT director, and then the rest was volunteers (I work for a small historical society). As our museum grew we began to add more and more paid staff. Volunteers were still integral to our operations, but their role was definitely changing. By 2012 we had 3 FT staff members, and the roles of our volunteers changed significantly. I took on our volunteer program and did an entire overhaul. We made a clear line between what was a volunteer and what was a staff. This was VERY difficult for some of our older volunteers who had been there for years. Most of them had keys to the museum and were used to being able to come and go as they please. We changed all of our locks and began to keep track of who had keys to every lock in the museum (which was limited to just staff). Did this ruffle some feathers, you bet it did. Most volunteers were okay with it, but some were very upset and did end up cutting back on their time. We ended up implementing a “key holder policy” in which a volunteer could “apply” for a key. Their request was sent to a special committee where it was decided if the project and/or volunteer warranted a key. This was our compromise. That way our older volunteers could still apply to get a key if they felt they needed one.

      I also understand your issues with the projects. Before I changed the policy we had volunteers working on some pretty in depth projects and working directly with collections without supervision. I changed that. Certain projects were made available for volunteers and certain projects were not. I do allow volunteers to help me in collections, but they are trained by me an supervised at all times. I did have one volunteer quit because I could not find a project that interested him enough (all the ones I suggested seemed to simple for him).

      Change is very hard for some people, but I think you are totally in the right here. I do not think your volunteer should have the key code, and I think it is totally reasonable to set up certain times in which you will allow volunteers to help. It sounds as though you have done be the best you can in contacting your volunteer if you can not make it during the indicated times. If I can not make it in I send out an email or text message. If the person still comes in, then my staff just apologizes and that is that. We are only human.

      Something that has really helped me with the transition is our volunteer policy. It is not that in-depth per se, but does cover things such as volunteer responsibilities, and key access. The policy was created by a committee and approved by the board. It was helpful for me to be able to tell volunteers that the board had implemented a new volunteer policy that we would be following and that it meant that some things may be changing.

      Good luck!

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