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How Many Supervisors Does It Take to Screw in a Volunteer?

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Lightbulb jokes aside, one of the eternal questions which shows up on a regular basis in online discussions, training sessions and inquisitive e-mails is usually framed quite simply:

"What's the recommended ratio of supervisory staff to volunteers?"

Susan greets this question with a quiet sigh; Steve tends to jump up and down and scream.

It's not, you understand, that this is a dumb question. In fact, it's usually posed by people who are actually trying to think constructively about volunteer management and trying to find some benchmarks for an essential part of management: the relationship between those who supervise and those who are supervised.

On the other hand it's a frustrating question for us because no one ever likes the really simple answer that any consultant on volunteer involvement will give:

"Well, Sparky, it depends...."

And this frustration is exacerbated by the fact that somewhere underlying this question may well be a disturbing set of notions about what volunteers are, versus what "real" staff are. More on that later....