Best Practices When Volunteering On Projects

how volunteering differs from project management

Project Manager is a busy career choice, at times requiring sacrifice and absurd long hours but here’s a little secret…Most of us do still have a life outside of our work environments. Yes, it’s hard to convince our bosses and managers at our companies that this is the case…but it’s true! We’re all involved in other activities outside of our jobs. These activities include time we spend with our families, volunteering with non-profit organizations and our religious affiliations.

This life outside of our work environment offers many opportunities to employ our project management skills, yet one needs to be careful when applying project management methods within a volunteer environment. Why? Because some people may not appreciate the efficiency and “take charge” mentality we bring to the volunteer table.

Tread Softly

There’s a lot of dynamics in play when it comes to volunteering and sometimes being respectful goes a long way to ensuring a team works together project management and project managers are not welcomed in this environment. You need to gradually and subtly introduce the concept of project management to such a group.

This is frustrating for many project managers that are used to getting things done. Project managers like to gather input, make decisions, assign tasks and then go, go, go!

Volunteer environments work differently. There may need to be some ideas that are run through a committee. This of course takes time. More information may be needed in order to satisfy a committee member’s questions. This of course takes time. Now, a decision is made and it’s time to round up the people that are going to implement the decision.

This of course takes time! All the while you are sitting there biting your tongue knowing that with a little project management method applied this ‘project’ could be done in a fraction of time that it’s going to take everyone.

What can you do? You can manage the project!

Just Don’t Call it Project Management.

Why? Because…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Project management by any other name would still get a whole lot of stuff done in a very short period of time. Here are some things you could do to help move volunteer or non-profit projects forward:

  • Coordinate – There are people from all different types of backgrounds that work on volunteer projects. These range from people that may have had decades of experience in a corporate environment, retirees, stay at home parents, people that own their own businesses, people that are sole proprietors and all points in between.Some people love just diving into the work and getting it done. Others may wait around until they are instructed what to do.The application of project management principles comes into play here. You could speak up and say… “There’s a lot of moving parts here, I’ll be glad to coordinate what everyone has going on so we don’t trip over each other or miss an important activity. ” Who could say no to that? Then, you go home and pull up a spreadsheet or project plan and start planning out the project.You won’t need a fancy project management application for most volunteer projects. You just need the ability to capture a task, date due, who is responsible, and the current status. This will give you enough information to come to subsequent meetings with the information needed to keep everyone on the same page. The trick is that you don’t want to overwhelm those who have never put the two words “project” and “management” together before.
  • Communicate – This is for a number of reasons.Typically, volunteer activity is something that is squeezed in between a whole bunch of other responsibilities. People have long days at work, family responsibilities and other obligations they need to meet.People will get to their volunteer activities when they can and this means certain ‘nice-to-haves’ suffer. Unfortunately, one of these nice-to-haves is communication.Another reason communication is challenging is that most people are not used to communicating with larger groups of people. They may feel as if a meeting every now and then is all that is needed to keep everyone up to speed. The assumption is that everyone is 100% tuned in to what is going on and is able to understand the details.
  • Report: – Another application of project management in a volunteer environment is that of a reporter, the person that takes notes at each meeting, documents the decisions that were made, records next steps, dates due and people that are responsible.You know how important this is in a work setting when it comes to preventing misunderstandings and recalling decisions back to people’s minds.It’s just as important in a volunteer setting.Again, volunteers may not be tuned in 100% when it comes to what is going on with the project and this is a good reminder. Come up with an easy-to-use form to make this job as easy as possible. This shouldn’t take up more than one page to zero in on what needs to be done. This can then be distributed to the team and keep everyone up-to-speed with what is happening on the project.
  • Illuminate: – Here’s a project management provide ideas but don't bully them into acceptance application that will occur by default if you do the things outlined above. You will become the shining light and torch-bearer for the project.In other words, you will become the project manager! That’s right, without ever uttering the words “project manager” you will have slipped into this role. You are filling the vital need of coordinating activity, communicating what is going on, and capturing what has occurred.Your non-threatening way of moving into this position will only result in people saying “thank you, we appreciate what you are doing for the project.”Your application of project management principles across an entirely new group of people in a very unique environment will pay big dividends at the end…and prevent you from pulling your hair out!

Remember that “Life” thing we talked about at the beginning of this article? You’ll find that you have even just a little more time to spend on “Life” than you used to if you follow the steps above.

Looking for an easy to use project management application that is just right for a group of volunteers? Try ProjectManager.com free for 30 days and increase your project communication. You can make sure everyone has the right information at the right time by collaborating online. Use our Messaging feature to keep everyone informed, hold discussions, and work from the same documents. This will make your job as a “project manager” that much easier…and they won’t even know it!

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