Winter 1987 // Volume 25 // Number 4 // Tools of the Trade // 4TOT1

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From the Top Down


Martha Nall
Extension Specialist, Leadership Development
Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service
University of Kentucky-Lexington

Sam Quick
Extension Specialist
Human Development and Family Relations
Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service
University of Kentucky-Lexington

From the Top Down: The Executive Role in Volunteer Program Success. Susan J. Ellis. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Energize, 1986. 185 pp. $16.75 paperback.

As suggested by its title, Ellis' book is designed to provide a chief executive with essential information for understanding and managing the volunteer component of an organization. Complete, yet concise, logically sequenced, and written from a practical, applied perspective, it's an excellent handbook addressing the management issues related to volunteers. A basic premise is that an executive or top-level manager must be involved if volunteer programs are to reach their potential.

Whether an agency, company, or organization is just exploring the use of volunteers, has recently launched a volunteer effort, or currently employs a well-established corps of volunteers, this thought-provoking volume will be valuable. Its usefulness stems, no doubt, from the author's extensive experience in working with volunteer programs. Energize Associates, the volunteer training and consulting firm Ellis directs, has conducted more than 750 workshops since 1977.

In addition to her own front-line experience, Ellis freely draws on outside expertise in appropriate sections of her book. For example, a significant portion of Chapter 9, "Legal Issues," is written by a legal expert, while Chapter 11, "The Dollar Value of Volunteers," is authored by a CPA experienced in working with nonprofit, volunteer-involving organizations.

Other major topics covered include planning, budgeting, staffing, and supervising a volunteer program; understanding the volunteer/salaried staff relationship; executive-level volunteers; and evaluation of volunteer impact. The "Executive Role Checklist," featured in Chapter 12, is a tool many executives will find useful, as they will Appendix A, which presents a "Volunteer Management Task Analysis."

From the Top Down presents a wholesome philosophy of volunteer programming that includes several fresh and stimulating ideas. For example, the author refers to volunteers as the "nonsalaried personnel" of an agency, proposes that saving money is a questionable prime motivation for volunteer use, and advocates strongly for the specific and invaluable benefits a volunteer can bring to his or her organization.

Of special interest to those working with advisory councils is the section in Chapter 8 in which Ellis discusses obstacles to genuine involvement and suggests procedures for getting the best advice. She emphasizes the difference between policy making and advisory functions. Particularly interesting is the recommendation that advisory councils not proceed to the point of taking a vote, because that can discourage diverse points of view and implies policy formation.

This book is superbly done and an eminently practical piece of scholarship. Its usefulness extends far beyond the purview of chief executive officers. Anyone interested in volunteer program success will be enriched by reading this insightful volume.