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Working as a volunteer manager

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Some good news for volunteer managers out there: American volunteerism is on the rise. The rate of volunteer service was up half a percentage point in 2011 to 28.6 percent of the population, according to a February report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means that a total of 64.3 million people gave their time and talents to schools, charities, community service agencies, hospitals, religious institutions, political causes and arts organizations, among others.

Volunteer managers work to harness civic generosity into programs that benefit the organizations where they work. Overseeing an unpaid labor force has its challenges, but it can also produce great rewards, both in tangible and intangible, for institutions and volunteers alike.

What they do:
Volunteer managers recruit, train and oversee volunteer workers for a wide variety of organizations. At nonprofits, which can rely heavily on volunteers, the job responsibilities vary widely based on the size and scope of the institution. For example, the American Red Cross has more than half a million volunteers, who respond to some 70,000 disasters each year. Most nonprofits are considerably smaller, as is their volunteer management staff.

Sometimes the job involves establishing a volunteer program -- creating policies and procedures to ensure that volunteers make a meaningful contribution to the organization. Though the Internet has made recruiting volunteers easier, most volunteer managers still have to conduct regular outreach.

Once the volunteers are on board, volunteer managers train them and, ideally, give them assignments that match their backgrounds and interests. Creating a satisfying experience for volunteers while also meeting the organization's needs is sometimes a balancing act. Volunteer managers walk that tightrope while also working to retain volunteers over the long term.  

What they need:
Volunteer managers tend to have a broad range of academic backgrounds and professional experiences, though four-year degrees are the norm. Some have studied nonprofit management, but most have degrees in a wide variety of other subjects. A talent for managing people with diplomacy and tact is a big asset.

What they earn:
The pay scale for volunteer managers varies depending on their level of responsibility. According to, directors of volunteer services, who usually oversee other volunteer managers, earn an average $74,848. Volunteer coordinators earn an average $61,267.

Job outlook:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks employment figures across a wide variety of occupations, doesn't provide information specifically for nonprofit volunteer managers. However, the agency does project faster-than-average growth for human resources, training, and labor relations managers and specialists, a broad category that includes volunteer managers. This larger group is likely to see 22 percent employment growth between 2008 and 2018, the agency reports. 

How well volunteer managers fare may also be dependent on the health of nonprofits generally. According to a January report from the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University, between January 2000 and June 2010, nonprofits grew at an average annual rate of 2.1 percent (compare that to an average annual decline 0.6 percent in the for-profit sector). That growth is somewhat less certain going forward, though many nonprofits will benefit from being in growing areas such as health care, social services and education (three fields that account for 87 percent of nonprofit employment).


Last Updated: 02/05/2012 - 3:20 PM

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