Did your friend just convince you to join an organization and now you need to prepare for volunteering? She’s been talking to you about it for months, maybe years, and finally, you decided…what the heck? I’ll give it a try! Or perhaps you have been in an organization, and someone keeps asking you to consider a more significant role that you turned down last year, but this year you said yes. Yikes, what did you just do?! Either way, good for you! I hope you can find a few tips here to start you on the right foot!
Depending on what type of position you volunteered for will determine what you need to do next. It might be getting some info from the person who had the job before you, or there might be some training, or if you’re lucky, it might be a little of both. In larger organizations like PTA or NCL, you are more likely to have both for some of the Board Member positions. In smaller organizations, you may not have any formal training. It may just be someone helping you get familiar with your new role. Regardless, just remember they are so happy you are a yes! Over the years, it has been most common in my experience to see something like the following for the different types of positions.
Types of Positions
If you fall into this category, you have probably been in the organization for a little while, but you still may not be aware of what will happen next. Don’t panic if, after you say yes, you hear that the membership votes on the Board Slate before you are official. It just means the membership has to “vote in” the new Board, and it usually passes without any issues.
Some organizations will have “Pass Down” dinners or meetings where the prior person holding the position will pass down the binder or whatever info they have to the incoming person. Not all Board positions will have position training, so don’t worry if you don’t get any. Prepare for volunteering by asking the prior Board Members if you will be getting a binder or if they are going to put everything on a shared drive.
A shared drive is great because you have their prior files, and then you are not reinventing the wheel. A binder is okay, but in my experience, it’s more of a bunch of papers that I glance at once or twice, and then it just sits on a shelf collecting dust until I’m supposed to pass it down to someone else. Ensure there is a timeline of the year in there, so you know when important tasks are coming up.
You are usually just scheduling a meeting with the prior Committee Chair. If you are lucky, there might be some training. A great way to prepare for volunteering is to: Ask the prior Committee Chair if you will be getting a binder or if they are going to put everything on a shared drive. A shared drive is great because you have their prior files, and then you are not reinventing the wheel. A binder is okay, but in my experience, it’s more of a bunch of papers that I glance at once or twice, and then it just sits on a shelf collecting dust until I’m supposed to pass it down to someone else. Ensure there is a timeline of the year in there, so you know when important tasks are coming up.
You can typically wait for the new Committee Chair to tell you what your role on the committee will be. Give the Committee Chair a little bit of time to get up to speed if you know they are new to their position. If your job is for a year, I suggest giving the Committee Chair a couple of weeks to settle into their role before you reach out. They are probably trying to figure out how to utilize all of the committee members.
If you are volunteering for an organization where you don’t have a specific committee that you belong to, you might just need some training before starting your journey. Typically, organizations will have the training planned out for you; don’t hesitate to ask if you haven’t heard about any. They will love it that you are excited about getting started.
A Few Things to Remember
“I Got Nothing Passed Down to Me”
Okay, I’m going to get on my soapbox for just a second here. So you are a Committee Chair or a Board Member and you don’t have anything passed down to you? Talk to the incoming President, and see if they can light a fire under who previously had the position. That President may have some insight into what the holdup is and might be able to help you. Often, a lot of time is wasted in the volunteer world because files and knowledge don’t get passed down. A pass down “binder” is a huge help when you need to prepare for volunteering.
All of the above may sound a little overwhelming, but it’s not. Everyone is SO thankful you are a volunteer, and they understand that it takes time to get up to speed. If someone asks you to be in a specific role, it’s because people believe in you and they truly have faith you can be great in this new role. If someone asks you to chair a committee, be on the Board or maybe even be President, don’t be afraid to say yes. They have seen something in you that you may not have noticed yourself. Remember you will have help!
Get a Timeline
Another great way to prepare for volunteering is to get a timeline from your predecessor. You need to know the year’s busy and downtimes, so you can plan accordingly. If you are planning an event, make sure you get a detailed timeline of that event and all tasks leading up to the event. Again, if you didn’t get one, ask someone!
Have Fun Learning Something New
Lastly, just have fun! Each position you take on will likely give you the opportunities to learn new things and develop new skills. And who knows, that may help you find a new job or just work on some of those skills you knew you needed to strengthen. It’s typically a low-risk way to learn new things, take advantage of the opportunity, and enjoy the ride.