Assign volunteers to tasks (project managers)

When a new volunteer joins your project, you receive an e-mail notification. The initial role of the new volunteer is "observer," and the volunteer usually waits for some direction from you, the project manager, before acting. During this waiting period, observers often aren't aware that they can get involved in the project, and they're often shy about their skills. They can wait forever until you contact them. As a project manager, you should reach out to volunteers, welcome them, and invite them to complete a task in JIRA. If you have designated a Church service missionary as a project manager, he or she can do this task.

Respond promptly

The first step in writing an effective welcome e-mail is to respond promptly. Within a day of receiving the notification that someone joined your project, respond to the new volunteer. It can be a template response, but personalize the name. (The more time you wait to respond, the more likely it is that volunteers will believe their efforts aren’t needed.)

In your welcome e-mail, include a link to your project's wiki page and JIRA project. Your wiki page (which acts like a welcome packet) should be up-to-date with all the information that volunteers need to get started on your project.

Here's a sample e-mail response you can send to volunteers:

John, welcome aboard. We’re glad to have you on the ACME project. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Is there any particular work you’re interested in doing for the project? What’s your background and skill level in X?
We do have a lot of tasks you can do. I like to match up the right task to fit volunteer skills and interests, so anything you can share about yourself would be helpful.
We use Google Groups to communicate and JIRA to track project tasks. Our test site is at X. You can see our wiki page at for more information. I look forward to working with you.

If you send out a personalized e-mail like this, expect about an 75% response rate. Volunteers respond well to personal invitations.

2. Get to know the volunteer

Once you initiate a dialogue with a volunteer, find out their background and skill level. A huge challenge in organizing volunteers is matching skillsets to tasks. If the volunteer doesn’t have the skills to complete a task, he or she won’t complete it. If the volunteer is overqualified for a task, it might not engage the volunteer. Through your welcome e-mail, you try to determine the volunteer’s skill level and interests so that you can align him or her with the right project tasks.

3. Extend a personal invitation to act

After you get to know the volunteer better, extend a personal invitation to the volunteer to do something. For example, you could ask the volunteer to do the following:

  • Tackle a specific task in JIRA
  • Write an article for the wiki
  • Provide e-mail support
  • Critique a prototype

The key is to make this a personal invitation. If you simply say, check out the list of tasks in JIRA, most likely the volunteer won’t entirely understand what you want him or her to do. Invitations that are focused on a specific task are much more likely to be completed.

At this stage, you'll be grateful that you added complete descriptions for each of the tasks in JIRA. If you haven't defined a body of work for volunteers to do, you won't be able to make personal invitations. Remember the analogy of the service project to help someone move? Volunteers are showing up on the site, ready to lift and move boxes. If you're not packed, you might want to prioritize a bit of project boxing as soon as possible.

4. Establish a timeline for completion

Once the volunteer feels good about a task he or she agreed to complete, establish a timeline for it. Before you end the conversation, ask questions such as the following:

  • Given your schedule, what timeline do you think would be feasible for you to complete this?
  • So that I can keep organized, can you estimate when you think you’ll finish this task?

Make a note of this date in the deadline field in the JIRA item, and follow up with the volunteer on this date. After the volunteer finishes the task, thank the volunteer for their time and provide a new task.

If you are under fixed time constraints, you may need to explain the deadline to the volunteer rather than negotiate one. In this case, help the volunteer understand that you may need to reassign tasks to meet the deadline but that no offense is meant if you have to do so and that you appreciate any time that the volunteer can give.


The initial contact with the volunteer is crucial to establishing a pattern of engagement. All too often new volunteers are ignored, they wait indefinitely for invitations to act, and project managers become frustrated that tasks aren’t being completed. Implementing these four principles as you welcome and engage volunteers on your projects will lead to more productivity in your project as well as a better experience for the user.

This page was last modified on 11 November 2013, at 10:10.

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