“Volunteers teach children how to read, take hot meals to shut-ins and serve food at community picnics. Volunteers organize Little League games and fund raisers for school band uniforms. They do these and thousands of other small and large tasks that improve all of our lives. Yet, volunteers often are taken for granted.” –Terry Besser, Nurturing Volunteers
“Relationship, Respect and Reciprocity.” Volunteers provide vital human resources to our nonprofits—but do we treat them with the value and respect they deserve? People who choose to contribute their time to our organizations do so for many reasons but fundamentally they want to make a difference. Whether it’s for a short period of time, planning an event or a life time of dedication to one issue or organization, there are “tried and true” ways of recruiting and retaining volunteers for our work.
There are many resources that detail the steps to successful volunteer management, but here some of the brass tacks of volunteer management:
- Plan first! Recruit second. Volunteers are not free. They offer their time in exchange for being involved and making a difference. This requires planning on your part and an investment of staff time (outreach, assessment, matching, training, recognizing) that will yield a mutual reward. Assess your own capacity to utilize volunteers in a meaningful way. The Virginia Office on Volunteerism and Community Service provides detailed resources for building your plan and running your program (for best results do this with a volunteer advisory team) and estimate the cost and benefit to your organization so that you can measure your success. Talk to other nonprofits that you work with–what aspects of their volunteer management are they especially proud of?
- Who are your volunteers? Typically, your volunteers are a subset of your organization’s total audience. What do you know about them? What matters to them? In addition to a sense of ownership and connection, what motivates them to get involved? What are they good at? What do they want to learn? Assess the experience, interests and skills of the volunteers that currently work with you—maybe they are qualified for other activities within your organization. Many organizations are looking to engage with younger people and others want to capitalize on the growing population of retired baby-boomers. Whatever our background: we all want to be useful!
- Be a match-maker. Help people understand they have valuable skills to offer. What mission critical activities you need help with? Are they a fit for your volunteers? Are they short term or long term opportunities? Do you have a “job” or “task” description? What skills and temperament are required? For example, the local bookmobile program is looking for drivers. They can advertise for “drivers” or they can expand the funnel by advertising for outgoing and sociable people who love books and happen to also enjoy driving.
- Offer specific, do-able tasks that make a difference to your organization. Smart nonprofit leaders build relationships through steady outreach and communications, regular events (with lots of good food) and flexible short term volunteer opportunities. One Vermont leader explains: “People work on the activities that interest them: doing interviews, helping with an event, writing a blog post. We make volunteer opportunities interesting and time specific.”
- How do you expand the volunteer “funnel”? If word of mouth is the most influential and effective way to recruit volunteers, make it easy! Tell the story of your organization through testimonials and pictures. Make posters, public access TV shows, newspapers and radio, use social media and help your friends spread the word. Go to where your volunteer prospects are. For example, Green Mountain Transit Agency now recruits volunteer drivers at the local unemployed office where they find people interested in mileage stipends and resume experience. In exchange, the agency widens their pool of drivers and trains potential future employees.
- How do you love them? Can you count the ways? Volunteers want to know their work is important—through feedback, opportunities to help in new ways, training and working together with staff, special attention and community recognition. If you treat them right–with respect and appreciation–they will be your greatest champions, respond to new requests for time and contributions, tell their friends and expand the reach of your organization!
- The New Volunteer Workforce, by David Eisner, et. al. in Stanford Social Innovation Review (Winter 2009)
- Volunteers: The National Council of Nonprofits
- Request a video copy: Vermonters explain volunteer recruitment and retainment (June 2010)
- Volunteer Match
- Volunteer Risk Management Tutorial
- Givegab Volunteer Management and Recruitment Platform