Claire P. Baker 2017 Q&A: Volunteer Management

[Note: Candidates were limited to 300 words for each answer.]

What would you like to do to reduce burnout in volunteers (both staff & non-staff)?

Previously, I mentioned the importance of having two or more people with the required knowledge and capabilities for any role. As vital as this is for future-proofing the OTW, it also helps to prevent burnout: anyone can take a break and know that their absence will not be detrimental.

Strong communication is also key. This involves the Board checking in with chairs, and chairs doing the same with their committees either directly or through further delegation. The Board has held meetings with each committee over the past two years, and it serves as an ideal chance to find out what is needed to meet each committee’s current needs. We also have an annual survey that checks if staff are willing to continue volunteering, but I believe that interviewing one-on-one or in small groups may also be useful. In the AO3 Documentation Committee, we’ve run such one-on-one meetings annually at a different time of year than the survey. We’ve uncovered issues causing stress and preventing staff from fully participating, and hopefully put in place means of support to help them through. Helping our staff find the right workload balance is something we’re still working on perfecting, and something that will look different within each committee.

I also think that having fun opportunities helps. The fact that we have the option for chat outside of workspaces is great for that; it helps make the work more enjoyable, and creates a healthier and more interconnected culture. The friendly bonds made through non-work-related activities may also boost support systems within the OTW, leading to more people close enough to notice red flags before burnout becomes a major issue.

How would you approach increasing recruitment rate for those committees that are routinely understaffed?

While the decision of if and when to recruit is largely up to the committees themselves, there are certainly suggestions we can make to ease their burden. The most important thing would be ensuring that all committees have well-documented training procedures for all positions, and suggesting a regular (perhaps annual) review to ensure that these documents are kept up-to-date.

If there are any specific reasons why recruitment is difficult, due to the work requirements or known past difficulties, it may be worthwhile to brainstorm ways around that with the committee, and, if suitable, other committees to see if we can find alternative ways to attract suitable new recruits internally or externally. Internal recruitment may involve promoting from within the committee itself (similar to how Translation made the decision to choose new managing staff from their own volunteer pool) or seeing who in the OTW may have the right skill sets, or transferrable skills and an aptitude to learn. External may involve posting the recruitment information in discipline-specific spaces, potentially with the help of our Communications committee.

Burnout is also a key factor in staff turnover, so decreasing this rate may also prove as invaluable as increasing the recruitment rate in keeping these committees properly staffed. Ideally, we will want to keep our new recruits around and make sure they feel happy, fulfilled, and not overworked.