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Volunteers – Do You Love Them or Leave Them!
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Volunteers – Do You Love Them or Leave Them!

Interestingly while a great deal of discussion in the nonprofit arena revolves around making sure that your board is active and involved others who might like to volunteer in some other capacity are often left out in no-mans-land!

As a matter of fact only a little more than one fourth of the people in the U.S. choose to volunteer leaving the vast majority of individuals i.e. over 70% not volunteering but choose to give money instead. Don’t get me wrong, money is great, but in many ways the most committed people who would stick with the organization in both good times and bad are those who choose to volunteer.

Why is it then that volunteers are often snubbed or not welcomed with open arms? The truth is most staff members realize that working with volunteers is a time consuming process. Since the person is a volunteer they are free to do as little or as much as they choose to do and cannot be necessarily counted on. Sometimes, however, staff might mistakenly see a person who volunteers as just an extra staff person versus what they truly are i.e. a person who wants to help but does not necessarily want to be in charge and have lots of responsibility. People volunteer because they want to help the organization not necessarily because they want another job!

One of the first questions to ask a volunteer is why they want to volunteer and what they expect to be doing.

So what does an organization that has limited staff and not much capacity to do a lot of hand holding do? Most of the time I think nonprofits ignore or not ask for volunteers because they see it as too much of a hassle or trouble. I am being totally honest, and I think you should too and not fall victim to trying to be so politically correct! Nonprofits just like any business have to weigh each decision they make and look at both the pros and cons.

Does your organization have anything volunteers can really do and not just a job that is busy work or one that is created? If not, be honest!

If however you see a bigger picture for volunteers i.e. maybe a first step to finding new board members or donors, then you need to do some careful planning before you open the doors and tell everyone to come in and help. I’d suggest you start by creating your own: Volunteer Policies Manual i.e. a guideline or practice that you intend to follow that spells out exactly the role of volunteers in your organization and the level of commitment and time needed in order to make it beneficial for the organization. You do not need to be so vague rather you need to weed out people who are just bored but really do not want to commit the time or energy you need.

Next you need to think about how you plan on recruiting volunteers. Are you going to be pro active or simply re-active?

Having an application and interview process is critical to the organization. Likewise a job description would be extremely helpful. If you only have a need from someone to wash dishes then you need to be honest and upfront with potential volunteers that this is what they will be doing and not something else!

Some organizations may choose to also have with the application a formal volunteer agreement form that the person must read and sign that goes into even more detail of all the do’s and don’ts of the organization. Now more than ever all volunteers should, regardless of how long you might have known the individual, be required to undergo a criminal records check.

After all the paperwork is complete and a job description is in hand there still may need to be further training and education to ensure that the volunteers understand the mission of the organization and the types of services it provides. Having proper support and supervision are two keys to success but only after you find a “real” fit for the volunteer in the job or jobs they do. Finding this perfect fit is a lot like finding a good pair of shoes. You need to try on a few first, walk around a little and see how it feels. As a staff person responsible for volunteers you need to totally understand what the motivation i.e. hot button is for the volunteer. Also, for the first few weeks you need to be in much more contact constantly asking the question, “Is this job a good fit for you? Are you still enjoying or having fun with what you are doing?” If you can tap into the talent and excitement that encouraged the person to seek your organization out in the first place then you have hit the proverbial home run.

As you work with volunteers you will quickly find that like most of your donors they require a good bit of acknowledgment and the simple and sincere words:
“Thank you for what you do!” Lastly, don’t be afraid to tout the good works of others in your newsletter or to others in your community; people like to be noticed for the good things they do.

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here.