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  Volunteer Management and Incentives?
How can I effectively monitor and manage the volunteers I do hire? What incentives can I provide to keep them interested and working?

There is a real art to managing a group of people whether they are paid or volunteer, remote or local.

Monitoring your volunteers is potentially a sensitive task which must be in tune with your needs as manager and the needs of the volunteers to feel that they have some degree of autonomy. The balance is crucial. There are some direct ways of monitoring, such as the submission of weekly updates on activity by volunteers, and some indirect ways, such as having your volunteers copy you on their e-mails to members or your perusing message forums for example. These are key avenues for evaluating performance and other issues. The only real other form of monitoring is day-to-day contact with your volunteers in informal ways: asking them how they are, how the "work" is going and generally being friendly and interested in them, via instant message, telephone or e-mail. These methods should be an integral part of your management strategies too.

Managing people takes heart. You are dealing with individuals that bring to the table different beliefs, ideas and thoughts. While you may not always agree with those diversities, as a manager it is your role to support and nurture your team, helping them grow and become successful in their roles as moderators, and ultimately feed that back into the community they service. The following components are strong ways to help manage your volunteers, as well as provide them with incentives:

Building an internal community builds cohesion and aids management.

Having a strong internal cohesion will help to make your job as a community manager much easier. It will provide your team with a sense of belonging that is crucial in day-to-day efforts. It can also provide strong incentives to the individuals who will see their role as part of a collective effort.

You can establish an internal community by providing a venue for team camaraderie and communication. It does not have to be anything complex, a listserv (otherwise known as a mailing list) would suffice, as long as your team has some way to communicate with one another. In such a place they can share funny stories, personal anecdotes, tips on community strategies, news from the "trenches" or just a place to vent. It all builds cohesiveness in your team and provides you with the means to be in better contact with them. If you are providing such places where your volunteers are able to express themselves then you also have in place a form of monitoring. Your internal community might also be the location of your volunteer’s weekly updates on their activity in the community, thus providing a centralized information area which benefits all.

Be receptive to ideas and supportive of the team.

Some of the best ideas come from those that are in the "trenches" everyday. They are usually the ones that have their fingers on the pulse regularly and are in tune with the members of the community. It behooves you as a manager to always remain receptive to the ideas that come from your team. That does not mean that you have to take every single idea on board and make it happen. Just showing your team that you receptive to their thoughts, that you value their ideas and that you support them will help provide that extra sense of belonging and commitment. This will equate to better performance out in the field.

Have in place a progressive disciplinary system.

Setting team standards of what is expected, and the consequences for behavior that is not up to standard is important to communicate to your team from the onset. The standards should be published within your internal community area in a clear and easily referenced manner. This way your team is aware of the disciplinary process and can help maintain the team standards.

Most importantly, the truest incentive, aside from the nice t-shirts, baseball caps or payment for ISP connection is valuing your volunteers and showing that value consistently. When people feel valued and appreciated for their contributions, they are more likely to stick around and do their best to succeed in their roles and responsibilities.

For more information on incentives and in particular on rewards and awards please see this previous Community Answer.

- Jon Nix and Pam Thomas
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