Milena Popova 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)?

I have seen some great initiatives on this from various committees. Tag Wrangling, for instance, have introduced a monthly Drop Day where wranglers can drop fandoms to reduce their workload, as well as regular reminders that fandoms can be dropped at any time. These are initiatives that we could potentially reapply elsewhere. I’d also be interested in Chairs’ and Chair Track staffers’ views on the amount of volunteer management training they receive, and whether this is something we could help with. In some cases the causes of burnout may vary substantially from committee to committee, and that’s where we need to listen to those committees and understand how we can best support them. I also think the work going on as part of the strategic plan to document roles and procedures will yield some interesting possibilities that we will need to look at once we have that documentation. (For more on that, see my answer to the last question in this set.)

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

One good way of doing this is by increasing our potential volunteer base by recentring our values of accessibility, diversity and inclusion. The skills and resources exist within the fannish communities we serve – we need to make sure we are and remain the kind of organisation that people want to volunteer for. Another aspect I would look at is helping our staff and volunteers articulate and leverage the skills they acquire through their OTW work in other environments, e.g. on CVs or in other areas of their lives. This would allow us to showcase and emphasise what our volunteers get out of working for us when we advertise new posts, not “just” what they contribute to the org.

One of the potential structural improvements that you suggested in your platform was a pool of “flow to the work” staffers with transferable skills. Can you expand on how you envisage that working, in conjunction with the existing committee structure of the OTW?

I think there are at least two skillsets at the moment that are transferable across projects and committees: project management and graphics. I suspect there are more, and some of that will become visible from the strategic planning role documentation work. So rather than a committee having, for instance, its own graphics volunteers, we would have a pool of graphics volunteers. I would propose they’d be managed by a “flow to the work committee” or similar. Whichever committee then needed graphics work done would request it through that flow to the work committee. This would also reduce the overhead for committee chairs who currently may have to manage staff/volunteers with very different skillsets to the core function of their committee. Think of it a bit like Translation: we don’t have translators on every committee that needs to produce things in multiple languages – we have a Translation committee. Now, what the exact organisational structure would look like, I don’t know. We would need to consult with existing projects and committees on that. I don’t necessarily have all the answers because my “on the ground” experience is limited to two committees, but I do have 10 years’ experience of business process re-engineering, so I know the kinds of questions to ask, how to listen to committees’ needs (and some of the things to avoid doing! ;).