TABLE OF CONTENTS
Effective nonprofit volunteer management is an ongoing topic of conversation amongst nonprofit professionals, and rightly so. Recruiting, engaging, and retaining volunteers has immense benefits for everyone involved, but it’s a process that can take some time to get right.
Volunteering has many benefits for volunteers themselves. From creating career opportunities, developing transferable skills, to increasing marketability and contributing to meaningful social change, the benefits for volunteers are plenty.
Nonprofit organizations benefit greatly too. For nonprofits, volunteers provide the much-needed support and resources to carry out their projects and activities.
Working with volunteers also allows nonprofit organizations to:
- Broaden the scope of their impact;
- Gain access to diverse skills, experiences, and knowledge;
- Build better relationships with the local community;
- Increase visibility and reach;
- Bring in new opinions, ideas or approaches;
- Save money and resources.
Furthermore, volunteering engages citizens at a community level and promotes philanthropic values in society at large. It promotes a sense of social inclusion, which is very important for community development and social cohesiveness.
Volunteering has been widely highlighted as one of the key indicators of community health, as well as an activity that promotes social change. It promotes positive change at local, national, and international levels.
The contribution of volunteering is not only social, but also economic.
On July 21, 2020, Independent Sector, with the Do Good Institute, announced that the latest value of a volunteer hour is $27.20 – up 7% from the previous year.
According to the most recent figures released in 2018 by the Corporation for National and Community Service, about 77.4 million people in the United States volunteered about 6.9 billion hours of their time, talent, and effort to improve and strengthen their communities, contributing approximately $187.7 billion to the U.S. economy. Source: GlobeNewswire
With this being said, nonprofit organizations of all sizes can benefit from investing time and energy in learning effective volunteer management.
What is volunteer management?
Essentially, volunteer management refers to the process of creating systems for recruitment, training, engagement, coordination, and evaluation of volunteers.
Volunteer management is a multi-faceted and complex process, wherein every part plays a pivotal role.
In this article, we split up the process of volunteer management into three simple stages:
We further divided these three stages into actionable steps you can take to effectively manage your nonprofit volunteers.
Step-by-Step Guide to Effective Nonprofit Volunteer Management
Finding the right volunteers and convincing them to help is a challenge for many nonprofit organizations. A variety of methods can be used to recruit volunteers, and some will be more appropriate for your organization than others.
Here is what to take into consideration when recruiting volunteers for your nonprofit:
1. Ask yourself the right questions at the start
To effectively recruit and manage volunteers for your nonprofit organization, you must first get clear on your objectives and goals for working with volunteers.
Start by answering the following questions:
- Why does your nonprofit organization want to recruit volunteers? To encourage community involvement, to gain access to a specific skill set, to get some extra help with a community outreach project?
- What role do you want your volunteers to play? Will they be doing front-line service work only or will they be involved in some back-end activities too (e.g. marketing or research)?
- What time-frame are you looking at? Do you want volunteers who will provide ongoing support, volunteers to support specific projects or events, or maybe you want to recruit for on-demand volunteers? Or maybe you’re looking for individuals interested in microvolunteering?
- Do you have the resources needed to maintain a volunteer program? For example, can a staff member dedicate some of their time to volunteer management, and if not, can you hire a volunteer coordinator? Do you have the space for your volunteers to work from, if relevant?
Even if you’re already working with volunteers, it’s still worthwhile taking the time to answer these questions, as the answers to them can form the basis of a new and improved volunteer management strategy.
2. Draft volunteer role descriptions and a recruitment message
Clear volunteer role descriptions are key components of a successful nonprofit volunteer program. They will help you successfully promote, select, engage, and evaluate volunteers.
When your role descriptions are well-written, volunteers can self-screen and decide whether they are the right fit for the role you’re promoting. This way you will receive more relevant applicants.
In the role descriptions, at the very least, make sure you outline:
- Role Title
- Key Responsibilities
- Time Commitment
- Length of Commitment
- Qualifications and Skills
- Support Provided
Once you draft your volunteer role descriptions, take the time to draft a compelling recruitment message. This recruitment message needs to entail your value proposition. What is it that the volunteer will be getting in exchange for their time and support? Make your message short, simple and straightforward.
Highlight why the volunteer service is necessary for the beneficiaries and the community, but also point out the benefits the volunteers will receive.
Think... Why should someone give their time to your organization? The central story of your volunteer recruitment efforts should focus on the benefits for the volunteer instead of “We need help!”
Some of the benefits you might want to highlight include:
- Making a difference
- Learning new skills
- Using their skills for good
- Meeting like-minded people
- Having fun
- Getting outside
- Setting an example for their children
- Fulfilling a spiritual or religious mandate
3. Research and choose your recruitment methods
To start, research and map out your community and your audience. Having a solid understanding of your community will help you to know who is available and interested in volunteering. This is then going to inform your choice of recruitment methods, recruitment messaging, and much more.
You can obtain this information by interviewing local volunteers or by diving into the studies done on volunteering in your local community, state, or country.
There are three main forms of recruitment, and each one can employ a variety of channels:
The idea behind warm recruitment is to use your organization’s network to recruit volunteers. Identify and contact people who are already in direct or indirect contact with your organization. These might be donors, friends and family of current staff, previous staff members, beneficiaries, or anyone else who has, in some way, been in contact with your organization.
Warm recruitment can be very effective as it’s generally more likely you’ll engage people who are in some way familiar with your work rather than complete strangers.
Unlike with warm recruitment, cold recruitment relies on reaching out to a wider audience of individuals who are unfamiliar with your organization.
You can go about doing cold recruitment in a variety of ways:
- Volunteer job ads on job boards
- Social media ads
- and more.
If you’re planning to promote your roles online, check out the following volunteer matching sites:
Targeted recruitment is usually employed when you are trying to recruit volunteers that need to have specific skills or background. This recruitment method usually involves a carefully planned outreach to a small group of individuals.
4. Promote your volunteering roles
Once you know who you’re looking for, what they’re going to do, and how you’re going to go about finding them, it’s time to start promoting the roles.
Avoid putting out a general call for volunteers. Instead of saying you’re looking for volunteers, specify the titles of the roles in the ads themselves.
For example, put out the call for tour guides, event planners, social media managers, or cabin builders. This way, prospective volunteers will know exactly what you’re looking for, and the right ones will apply.
Additionally, make volunteering an integral part of your communications:
Dedicate a part of your website to volunteering. In this section of your website, share more about your mission and vision, but pay special attention to highlighting how the prospective volunteers will be contributing to it. Shed light on the benefits your prospective volunteers will have, as well as some testimonials from current volunteers and links to active volunteering ads.
Occasionally highlight volunteering activities on your social media. It can be easy to forget to do this while posting content that targets donors and beneficiaries.
Share about volunteering opportunities in your e-newsletter. Occasionally include a story featuring a volunteer in your e-newsletter.
Pitch stories to the media about volunteering, whenever you have the opportunity to do so.
Organize an in-person or virtual volunteer event where you can answer any questions prospective volunteers might have.
Pro tip: Make it easy. Signing up for volunteering with your nonprofit organization should be straightforward. If you aren’t sure if it is, ask someone to try and sign up and then give you feedback on the process.
5. Provide opportunities for different levels of engagement
Many people want to help, yet not everyone is ready for the same level of commitment. Some individuals might be seeking a part-time or even a full-time role (for example, as a requirement for their university credits or degree), some might be looking to volunteer seasonally (for example, during summer or Christmas holidays), and some might be able to only help a few hours per month.
To maximize the amount of volunteers you can engage, make sure you provide opportunities to help out at different levels of commitment.
Microvolunteering has been gaining a lot of attention recently. Essentially, microvolunteering is a way for volunteers to give small amounts of their time, whenever and wherever it’s convenient for them.
However, while microvolunteering is certainly great, this cannot replace consistent volunteers that you can rely on at all times – so make sure you have both.
Pro tip: Whenever you’re promoting volunteering roles, make it clear that you have opportunities for different levels of commitment.
6. Screen and assess the volunteers
It might be tempting to accept any help that you can get, but this isn’t necessarily a smart move.
If the volunteer isn’t the right fit for your organization, say they can’t commit for the needed amount of hours or don’t have the right skills, you can politely decline their application while redirecting them to more suitable opportunities to give their time to. For example, you might suggest they become a peer-to-peer fundraiser. If you don’t have any other opportunities that are suitable, keep their contact on hand and contact them once you do. Always thank your applicants and never close the doors fully.
Of course, you want to keep in mind that a volunteer role isn’t the same as a paid staff role, so your expectations need to reflect this.
It’s always good to look beyond your immediate needs. Even though a volunteer’s experience and skills might not meet your immediate needs, if you have the time to, talk to them about their background. Maybe they can support you in another way or at another point in time. Don’t be too exclusive either!
Keeping volunteers engaged
Once you’ve recruited a new volunteer, you’ve only just started! Now you’ll need to manage and retain them, which might be an even more important aspect of volunteer management (just like it is with staff members and donors).
Volunteers should have sufficient orientation right at the start, met with clear and appropriate expectations, proper training and equipment, ongoing communication, evaluation of performance, and regular reinforcement and recognition.
Here is what you can take into consideration when engaging your volunteers:
7. Make your volunteers feel welcome
Your volunteers should feel welcome right from the start. When volunteers feel like they are a part of a team, this in turn improves the quality of their work and the strength of their commitment.
In addition to organizing an orientation session and handing them a handbook, see if you can think of creative ways to go the extra mile.
For example, if you recruited a group of volunteers at the same time, you might want to organize a welcome event or a party. If they’ll be working from your office, maybe you want to decorate their desk and get them a welcome cake.
If they’ll be working remotely, maybe you can deliver a coffee mug with your organization’s logo to their address. The options are plenty, and how you start your relationship with your volunteers matters!
8. Establish clear expectations and clarify procedures
To effectively manage volunteers, establishing expectations is incredibly important. No one likes to be confused or waste their time, especially when they’re volunteering it.
When volunteers have the clarity around your organization’s expectations, they will do a better job and feel more confident in their role. This subsequently improves their performance, as well as their job satisfaction.
This is your chance to go through the role descriptions with them, clarifying important procedures and guidelines.
Make your expectations simple and clear. Clearly state what you expect from your volunteers, and make sure they understand this by asking them questions.
You might also want to create a volunteer handbook, something you’ll always keep updated and hand out to all new volunteers joining your organization.
However, ideally, a handbook wouldn’t fully replace a one-on-one conversation where a volunteer not only feels more welcomed, but also has the opportunity to ask questions.
Make sure that whoever is leading this conversation is equipped to answer all the questions regarding your mission, your organization’s successes and failures, your culture, your procedures, and more.
Pro tip: You can also sign a contract or agreement with new volunteers.
9. Create a solid volunteer training program
Effective volunteer management includes a volunteer training program. Training helps to keep volunteers motivated and committed and performing well.
An effective training program goes beyond a handbook with guidelines, expectations, and procedures.
Make sure your volunteers receive the training necessary to perform their roles. Volunteer training often consists of safety training and functional/role training.
Safety training often includes training on things such as common hazards, emergency response, workplace violence prevention, and more.
Functional training gives volunteers the skills they need to carry out their assigned tasks (e.g. a marketing volunteer might receive marketing-specific training).
Whatever the training is, it should be tailored to the respective volunteer position, ongoing, and adjusted to the skill level of the volunteer.
Pro tip: To effectively manage volunteers, you will need to designate a volunteer coordinator. Don’t let volunteer management be something 5 staff members do whenever they have free time. Ideally, you’d hire a full-time volunteer coordinator, who’s maybe a volunteer themselves, or someone would have it as their job-description part-time. Not everyone knows how to work with and motivate volunteers, so make sure the designated volunteer coordinator is motivated and equipped to perform this role.
10. Communicate with volunteers regularly
Regular communication with volunteers is key. While volunteers might be very motivated at the start, they can gradually start to lose interest if they’re not engaged.
Develop positive relationships with volunteers and frequently convey to them that your organization needs and values their contribution.
Consistently share the necessary information with volunteers and regularly gather their input. By doing so, you gain access to invaluable information that will then help your organization improve your volunteer program and further your mission.
Furthermore, the volunteer coordinator should regularly check in with volunteers asking them how they feel about their work, whether they need any help or have any questions, and whether they feel adequately supported.
11. Appreciate and reward your volunteers
Recognition and appreciation are not just good manners. They are essential to good nonprofit volunteer management.
They help avoid volunteer burnout and increase volunteer retention. Treat your volunteers with respect. Give them support and praise throughout the duration of their engagement with your nonprofit.
Say “thank you” often, specifically, and personally. And also say “thank you” in a way that’s genuine and not too rehearsed. Make your recognition tailored to the individual you’re recognizing. Be specific. What is it that you appreciate about them?
There are many ways in which you can recognize your volunteers, and they needn’t be expensive:
- Share about new volunteers or recognize long-standing volunteers on your organization’s website or in your e-newsletter.
- Highlight your volunteers on social media (if they’re comfortable with it).
- Work with traditional media. For example, you might arrange interviews in local newspapers featuring your volunteers, especially during the National Volunteer Week.
- Send them cards for birthdays and holidays.
- Host a recognition ceremony.
- Organize a “volunteer of the month” recognition program.
- Gather testimonials from staff members and beneficiaries (and others who have noticed the volunteer’s work) and hand them out to the volunteer.
- Offer small gifts such as a t-shirt, a mug, or a sticker.
Finally, it’s time for evaluation. Very few nonprofit organizations take the time to do this, but evaluating both your volunteers’ performance and your volunteering program is crucial to your success.
Here is what you can take into consideration during the evaluation stage:
12. Evaluate and communicate the volunteers’ performance
Evaluating your volunteers’ performance and then communicating it to them shows that you care about your volunteers, their progress and learning, as well as their experience.
Ensure you explain your evaluation system to volunteers during their orientation session. The evaluation should ideally consist of regularly scheduled meetings to discuss performance and satisfaction. Volunteers should be notified about these meetings well in advance.
A good evaluation session also gives the volunteer a chance to discuss the volunteer position and suggest changes. For example, you might want to check if the volunteer feels like they’re doing what they initially signed up for, if they’re interested in a different position, if they’d like less responsibility or a different schedule.
Pro tip: Explaining the criteria used for evaluation will ensure transparency and avoid any confusion and conflict.
13. Evaluate and improve your volunteering program
In addition to evaluating the volunteers’ performance, it’s vital to evaluate your volunteering program.
A good evaluation system has many benefits for your nonprofit. It can help you inform program improvements, provide direction to the staff and the board, and support strategic planning.
Evaluation may seem daunting, but the process can basically be broken down into designing the evaluation, collecting data, and analyzing data.
Designing your evaluation
When you’re designing your evaluation, you will have to decide on your data collection tools. For example, you might choose to distribute surveys or questionnaires, hold interviews, or conduct focus group meetings.
When you’re assessing your volunteering program, it’s important to refer back to your program objectives and the key success/performance indicators you defined at the start. This will help you determine if, and to which extent, your volunteering program is meeting its objectives. If you didn’t set clear indicators at the start, now is a good time to do so.
Ask the volunteers to rate your program and rate their satisfaction with their work. Ask them if they feel the role is meeting their expectations, whether they feel adequately supported, whether they feel they have the resources they need to perform their roles.
Design and create your chosen data collection tools, such as surveys. Develop procedures for collecting data and make sure everyone involved in the evaluation process is familiar with them.
Furthermore, gather the data you already have. Pull up the numbers from your volunteer management software, such as the number of hours your volunteers worked, the percentage of volunteer attendance, and more.
However, quantitative data never tells the full story. Include some methods of evaluation that involve qualitative factors. For example, ask for testimonial letters from beneficiaries in which they’re asked to share about the impact interacting with your volunteers had on them.
Last but not least, it’s time to analyze the data and see what they show about your volunteering program.
Create a report, summarizing the data analysis clearly, succinctly, and impartially. Highlight the key findings, shedding light on successes, but also addressing the main issues.
Finally, it’s vital to actually use the data you collected and analyzed. Using the findings, make recommendations for action to relevant stakeholders. For example, you might find that your volunteering program is sufficiently staffed but that the training program isn’t effective and that many volunteers complain of lack of interaction. In this case, you might recommend that the volunteer coordinator improves the training program by making it more interactive.
Bonus: volunteer management during COVID-19
The current COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many nonprofit organizations in a variety of ways, including in their work with volunteers.
For example, while virtual volunteering isn’t new, running volunteering completely or mostly online and during a pandemic is certainly a novel experience for most nonprofit organizations.
Here are some important considerations:
- Protect your volunteers, especially those on the frontline. The measures that your nonprofit puts into place should go beyond normal safety best practices.
- Offer a lot of flexibility when it comes to your volunteers getting involved. This way, you show your volunteers you empathize with their needs, especially during such a stressful period.
- Be transparent and consistently provide volunteers with information about how your organization is responding to COVID-19, as well as the safety protocols you have put into place.
- Invest in a volunteer management software/solution. This way you can recruit, screen, and work with volunteers online whenever possible. You can also livestream remote volunteer training sessions and create engaging pre-recorded content that volunteers can continue having access to.
- Consider prioritizing volunteer roles that can be done remotely: document writing, research, social media management, tutoring, graphic design, and more.
Over to you
While it’s true that volunteers are an invaluable resource to nonprofit organizations, it’s important to not see them as only that.
Evaluating your volunteers, tracking hours worked, and placing dollar values on the value of volunteer work matters, especially when needing to justify the volunteering program to your board.
However, a numerical value cannot express the many intangible benefits of volunteering for everyone involved. Take the time to truly appreciate the selflessness of volunteers and think about how you can make their experience at your organization the best it can be.
These efforts will pay off for your organization also. Engaged and happy volunteers are a golden resource!
In addition to getting help from volunteers, soliciting donations, particularly online, is key to keeping your doors open!
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