Volunteers are a nonprofit’s dream. They believe in your organization and it’s mission 100%. They put in their best efforts of their own volition and their contribution to your organization is invaluable. But just like with employees, volunteers need to be managed professionally. Which means that you need to recruit, train, delegate, evaluate and show appreciation just as you would with employees.
So let’s take a look at some best practices for managing your volunteer program successfully.
- Recruit right. Your organization and your projects have specific goals. First, develop a list of all the volunteer jobs needed to achieve your goals. Then make a list of all the volunteer skills and characteristics that you’ll need for those jobs. Create simple recruitment forms with all the details that you need including contact details, skills, availability dates and times, previous volunteering experience. If you use volunteer management software, then you’ll probably have these forms already and should be able to get them on to your website fairly easily. Use social media and local media to get the word out about your volunteering opportunities. Target places where your ideal volunteers work or play. Local gyms, libraries, sports bars are all great places to put the word out, depending on what you are trying to recruit for.
- Train appropriately. As baby boomers retire and millennials look to give back, volunteer motivations and skillsets are changing. Make sure that your volunteer orientation and training are in step with your project goals and with your volunteers’ skills. Volunteers today want to make a tangible difference to causes and programs. So involve your volunteers in planning and execution, so that there’s a feeling of ownership in the process. Your orientation and training need to focus on cultivating a relationship with volunteers and engaging them long-term. That means everyone from your board members down, need to be in sync with your volunteer program and be involved in the training process. And that you understand volunteer’s skills, commitment and time availability.
- Delegate effectively. Empower volunteers by delegating specific projects to specific volunteers or volunteer teams. This delegation should be based on qualifications, responsibilities and time availability that you’ve drawn on from the first two stages. Make sure that you have defined responsibilities, limits and freedoms clearly. Staff your projects based on the strengths and skills of your volunteers. Set appropriate short, medium and long-term goals, so everyone is clear of what needs to be achieved. Stay involved with your volunteers to motivate them and provide continuity. But provide advice and help only when requested.
- Provide supervision. Just like regular staff, volunteers need regular direction and feedback. Supervision is about helping your volunteers get a handle on what they are supposed to be doing, let them know when they are doing well and providing direction when they need it. You need to support your volunteers so they can contribute effectively to your organization’s needs, while at the same time meeting the volunteers’ motivations for being there. This role can be played by a volunteer manager or a senior volunteer. This is also a great way to get feedback and ideas from your volunteers. You can use your volunteer management software here to provide additional means of feedback and communication to volunteers.
- Recognize volunteer contributions. Show your volunteers that you are grateful for their help. An easy way to keep your volunteers engaged is to acknowledge their contributions to your organization. You could use formal recognition such as awards or certificates to publicly demonstrate gratitude to your volunteers. Use informal methods such as thank-you notes and emails to volunteers for finishing a job. It’s important that you mark your volunteer’s milestones with you. Maybe they’ve reached a certain number of hours of volunteering or number of months of volunteering. Use your software to keep track of these events and thank volunteers immediately. Use simple gifts like buying pizza for a volunteer group, free movie tickets or gift cards to recognize volunteers.
Following these principles improves the outcomes of your volunteer programs. It also gives your volunteers a more relevant experience and helps to build positive long-term relationships with them.
Would love to hear from you about specific ideas that you use to manage your volunteer programs.