In 2015 alone, Americans volunteered for a cumulative 7.9 billion hours1, and nonprofits across the country relied on 62.6 million volunteers to perform their critical work2. Having a successful volunteer program, whether you need 5 or 500 volunteers, can be the key to delivering on your mission. But just like building any team, leveraging volunteers for your nonprofit requires careful planning.
Whether it’s recruiting a skilled cook to prepare meals at a homeless shelter, or having a registered nurse on call for disaster relief work, the goal of volunteer management is to put the perfect person in the perfect place at the perfect time. Similar to hiring paid employees, the volunteer management cycle consists of recruiting, hiring, training, supervising, evaluating and retaining volunteers. Especially in the resource-strapped world of nonprofits, knowing how to tackle all of these steps is critical in providing your organization with the resources it needs to be truly impactful.
So, let’s break it down...
- Define your needs. Identify gaps in staffing where volunteers would be most effective and then carve out specific roles for your volunteers. Volunteer roles should be meaningful to attract valuable volunteers.
- Leverage your existing network and use word of mouth for volunteer recruitment. This is likely going to be your most valuable tool. People who speak about your mission with excitement naturally attract the most enthusiastic volunteers.
- Use websites like Idealist.org and VolunteerMatch.com to post volunteer opportunities and connect with prospective volunteers. You can also attend conferences and networking events related to your cause, or partner with community service centers on college campuses to promote your opportunities.
- Designate someone, generally called a Volunteer Coordinator, who is responsible for all aspects of your volunteer program. If you’re just starting out, you’ll likely act as your own Volunteer Coordinator, and that’s perfectly fine.
- Tell prospective volunteers where and how to apply. Conduct interviews if appropriate. Much like hiring for a paid position, you want to ensure that you find the right people to serve your organizational needs. If you need a volunteer to help with accounting for example, you’ll need to verify that they have the right expertise.
- On your website hosted by GVNG, you can direct potential volunteers to complete a volunteer sign-up form. GVNG will run a background check (free of charge) on each volunteers before they begin working with your organization.
- Send instructions before volunteers begin their service. Provide them with some context about your expectations of volunteers, what to bring with them, where to go, who to report to and any other pertinent information.
Training & Supervising Volunteers
- Facilitate volunteer orientations. You can schedule group conference calls and/or in-person trainings depending on your needs. This is an easy way to provide instructions and information to new volunteers, while also getting them excited about their contribution to your mission.
- Create a volunteer handbook that clearly outlines roles and responsibilities, as well as policies for the organization.
- Engage veteran volunteers to train new volunteers. This gives them a sense of ownership and makes them feel even more valued by your organization.
- Help your volunteers feel connected to your organization. Don’t forget to educate them on the mission and impact of their work.
- Focus on their needs. Whether it’s providing water on a hot day, rotating their shifts or providing snacks, your Volunteer Coordinator should focus exclusively on the volunteer’s experience so that volunteers can focus on having the greatest impact.
- Make your volunteers feel important. They are crucial to the success of your organization. Volunteer recognition should be a part of your budget and your best practices. Remember that volunteers donate time the same way that donors give money; anyone who contributes valuable resources to your organization deserves respect, appreciation and recognition.
- Create a sense of community through social events, trainings, speaker series and other networking events. People want to meet people that they might see again. The more you’re included in a community, the more likely you are to be engaged.
- Have volunteers evaluate their experience. Ask for individual and collective feedback. Think of this as a focus group!
- Get to know your volunteers personally. Make the effort to find out about their interests and passions. Then based on what you learn, you can identify the role in your organization that fits them best.
- Your Volunteer Coordinator doesn’t have to be a paid employee. They can be a volunteer too. It’s not about paying someone, it’s about having a designated person with a passion for volunteerism to support, encourage and represent the needs of your volunteers.
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