Passing the Volunteer Torch

Lori Halley 24 July 2012 0 comments

With the Summer Olympics fast approaching, this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival host – Craig Linton (Fundraising Detective) – wanted submissions  about memorable Olympic moments that have provided inspiration. 

I’m always amazed by the power the Olympic games have to draw in even non-sports fans (like me) and to stir our sense of pride and patriotism. And while I remember many wonderful gold medal moments, the most iconic symbol for me is the Olympic torch relay. As a Canadian, I followed the media coverage of the torch passing procession leading up to the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. This involved a 106-day journey where the torch was carried by Canadians from all cultural backgrounds across Canada. For me, the passing of the torch symbolizes the Olympics' ability to bring together people from all ages, races, cultures and countries for a common purpose.

Challenges in passing the volunteer torch

We can draw many similarities between the passing of the Olympic torch and the passing of the baton (or gavel) from one volunteer to another. In fact, I used that analogy a post I wrote a while back about volunteer transitions. When board members, event organizers and other key volunteers leave and new volunteers come on board, there can be many challenges involved with passing the volunteer torch.

These challenges with volunteer transitions can range from broad strokes, such as orientation of new Board members, to more detailed issues around information and resources transfer. For example, I’ve heard stories of incoming volunteers trying to find misplaced logos or artwork to promote a yearly event and realizing they’d have to be recreated from scratch because no one knows where they were stored.  It seems that smooth volunteer transitions can be derailed by a lack of pre-planning, ineffective processes and poor resource management.

Finding a Gold Medal Process for Volunteer Transitions

In looking for some tips and resources that might help small non-profits and membership organizations better manage their torch-passing process, I found a post by Tobi Johnson – Five Documents Your Organization Shouldn’t Live Without. This offers an overview of “five tools that every nonprofit should have in place and why.”  Along with the ever-important Volunteer Handbook and Mission Statement (number 1 & 2 on her list), Tobi also suggests that organizations have “Desk Manuals” that “contain info about a specific staff or volunteer position.  They include information about the step-by-step processes used to get tasks done.  If you have individual people performing a specific job, the desk manual acts as a back up, if that person becomes ill or leaves the organization.  It’s your insurance against the loss of valuable institutional knowledge.”

Be sure to maintain and pass along your “institutional memory”

Along with effective orientation processes, manuals and resources, it’s also important to have systems in place to maintain your “institutional memory” such as your membership or supporter database, event registrants and other data that needs to be safely stored and backed-up to ensure continuity. Depending on your needs and the size of your organization, this might mean creating Google docs, or using Membership Management Software, both of which can be accessible to multiple individuals – in the Cloud.

To relate this back to our Olympic theme, I’m sure there are many different techniques that athletes develop to ensure effecitve handing off the baton in a relay race or in passing the Olympic torch. In the same way, each organization needs to develop volunteer management and transition processes that suit their unique needs. But it's important to bear in mind that when you have new, keen volunteers standing ready to grasp that torch and run with it, you want to be sure you have the information and processes in place to ensure that individual's success as well as their sense of achievement for both him/herself as well as your organization.

Enjoy the 2012 Summer Olympics

The torch will soon be lit in London signalling the start of the Summer Games. I’ll be tuning in to keep an eye on my country’s Olympians and hoping for some Gold Medal moments. Enjoy the games!


Image Source:  Milton, Canada - December 19: Passing of the flame between two torch bearers... from BigStockphoto.com

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Tuesday, 24 July 2012 at 8:30 AM

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