Volunteers are the lifeblood of most nonprofits. Without them, many organizations simply couldn’t exist. Recruiting and effectively mobilizing a top-notch pool of dedicated volunteers has to be at the top of the priority list of any nonprofit. We have some tips for reviewing your current volunteer management strategies and taking stock of where you can improve.
Top Tips for Managing an Effective Volunteer Program
Invest in management software.
The larger your volunteer corps, the more you should consider using a volunteer management software to help you track activity, communicate and organize. You might even consider having a custom app created that volunteers can have on their phones, especially if you find yourself frequently having to find volunteers last minute, mobilize them in many different locations and so on. The right software can really streamline your processes and make the experience more pleasant and professional for all involved.
Many nonprofits put out a general call for volunteers or simply sit back and wait to see who presents themselves. This is how many organizations end up with a lot of the same types of volunteers, for instance, retirees. Most organizations would do well to reach out to a wider, more diverse pool of recruits. This requires conscious planning and targeted outreach.
Provide appropriate training.
One of the worst feelings in the world is being a volunteer in a situation where you feel unprepared to handle the tasks given to you. Volunteers taking on public-facing positions in particular need to be provided with adequate training to feel that they can confidently handle the position and answer any questions asked of them by the public. Create a formalized, standardized training for volunteers and revisit it regularly to keep it up-to-date.
[ Related: How to Avoid Volunteer Burnout ]
Include a code of conduct.
Any training should include clear rules and expectations for volunteer conduct. Spell out your no-tolerance for harassment and basic rules on communication and behavior. Have every volunteer sign that they understand this policy and will conduct themselves accordingly. Revisit your policy regularly to ensure that all your bases have been covered.
Discover volunteers’ unique talents and skills.
Not every volunteer is suited to every job. You don’t want to put a shy or introverted type into a position that requires lots of interaction with the public for instance. And many volunteers have specialized skills that they’d be happy to share with you if asked. Surveying your volunteers during the onboarding process and keeping that information in a database can help you find the right volunteer when the need arises. Ask what languages they speak, any special skills or training they possess, what types of work they feel most comfortable doing and what they hope to achieve in their position.
Make sure volunteers know their purpose and value.
Find opportunities to affirm the value of your volunteers and how important they are to your organization. Volunteers who feel they are doing important work to support a mission they care about are more likely to stick with it long term. Make sure they feel that their efforts are appreciated and that they are making a difference.
Be sure to have a senior member of your organization available to take calls and step in whenever a volunteer has an issue for which they need assistance, or if a volunteer is acting outside of the bounds of their position. Your volunteers are not paid staff and shouldn’t be expected to take on the same responsibilities. Ultimately the buck stops with you and your staff. Be sure that you or someone in a position of authority is reachable even if you are not on site.
Communicate often and request feedback.
Diversify your communication types and styles, because people have different preferences. Some prefer email. Some like social media. Some prefer texts. Others like to talk over the phone or at an in-person meeting. Find opportunities to speak to your volunteers one-on-one, as well as bringing them together as a group for brainstorming and idea-sharing. Use these opportunities to discover what is working, what is not, what improvements could be made and head off any problems before they become crises.
Experiment with ways to keep volunteers engaged.
There are a variety of reasons why some volunteers decide to become “regulars.” Some are looking for social interaction, others for professional development, and many because they want to know that they are making an impact. Offer opportunities that tap into these motivations like professional training, educational speakers, social events and behind-the-scenes tours or videos that will allow them to see the results of their efforts.
Who doesn’t love to be rewarded for good work? Take the time to call out and reward your best volunteers, have a party when a big goal is reached and offer fun incentives for volunteers to aspire to. Be sure to celebrate your star volunteers to help them feel appreciated and serve as an inspiration to others.
If you haven’t tapped into the potential of your volunteers to also be donors to the cause, you should. It must be done tactfully of course. These are the folks that are already giving regularly of their time, and you don’t want to seem as if you are twisting their arms to open their pocketbooks also. But many of them will have the means and willingness to give back financially to a cause they care about, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Keeping your volunteer program well-staffed, effective and efficient is an ongoing process. Contact us at J & M Business Solutions for a variety of customized services to help you streamline, upgrade and outsource many of the functions of your nonprofit or association.