How to Better Manage Volunteers at Your Nonprofit
Posted May 10, 2023 | Updated 3 weeks ago
Volunteers are the lifeblood for many small and even medium-sized nonprofits. They provide hours of service in support of your mission, supplementing staff time and enabling your whole team to accomplish more for your various programs and projects.
However, while volunteers are a significant asset for nonprofits in Colorado Springs, they also require thoughtful management to ensure they are benefiting the organization, upholding its values, and also feeling like valued members of the team.
How Do Colorado Nonprofits Manage Volunteers Effectively?
Some nonprofit organizations have a staff person who is dedicated to overseeing volunteers, such as a volunteer coordinator. Others have multiple staff members who interact with and utilize the service of volunteers on a regular basis. Regardless, it’s important to have a structure in place for volunteer recruitment, onboarding, engagement, and oversight.
Here are a few volunteer management best practices to consider implementing at your nonprofit in Colorado Springs:
1. Make Sure You have a Purpose for Volunteers
Successfully managing volunteers takes ample time and effort, and it should be viewed primarily as a way to build your organizational capacity—not simply as an outreach or community engagement tool. Whether you’re looking to expand your volunteer base or start working with volunteers for the first time, it’s important to determine how and where in your organization they can genuinely provide support. Not only will that ensure your team is getting the most from their investment into volunteer management, but it will also empower volunteers and give them a true sense of purpose if they are assigned to capacity-building tasks.
2. Adopt Organization-Specific Volunteer Recruitment Strategies
Volunteer recruitment strategies will vary from organization to organization, depending on your needs and how frequently you rely on volunteer help. Think about how you can best connect with interested community members and draw them into your organization. Then, acquire the tools you need to streamline this process, such as volunteer management software. Most organizations have a “Get Involved” or “Volunteer” section on their website that can permanently house a volunteer application or inquiry form. This gives you somewhere to direct individuals when they email, call, or otherwise contact your organization. You might also hand out forms at community events, workshops, or activities. Put calls out on your social media and your e-newsletters. Store the information you glean from interested individuals in your volunteer database. Reach out promptly to respondents to let them know if you have something immediately for them to work on or if you hope to keep their name on file and contact them as future opportunities arise.
3. Equip Volunteers with the Right Tools, Resources and Information
Your volunteers, like employees, need to be given the right information to authentically represent your organization, as well as the appropriate tools for doing their job. As part of your onboarding process, consider offering a sort of “Organization 101” workshop or meeting with prospective volunteers to share an overview of your organization’s history, services, programs, fundraising campaigns, values, and other pertinent information. Create one-pagers with some talking points or an elevator pitch that volunteers can use on the job or when they’re out in the community. Give volunteers adequate training, either one-on-one or in small groups, before they’re expected to work independently. And, finally, whether they’re serving in the office or the field, provide them all the supplies they need for their job.
4. Make Sure Volunteers Understand Your Nonprofit’s Chain of Command
Additionally, it’s critical that your volunteers know whom to speak with if they have a question or a concern. In general, they will work directly with one or two specific staff members who can be their go-to contacts for a given program or event. As they become regularly involved, make sure they understand boundaries in terms of asking other staff members for support or to do something on their behalf—that will spare both them and your team from getting into sticky or uncomfortable situations. Also, let your volunteers know who is higher on the chain of command or who they should speak with if their questions or concerns are going unanswered by the designated staff member, or if they’re having difficulty with the staff member themselves.
5. Check in Periodically with Volunteers
Typically, team members who work closest with volunteers will start to build a rapport, but they may need encouragement or support—especially initially—to remember to check in with volunteers and the best way to do that. Mostly, it can be informal and a natural part of relationship-building. That sort of authenticity is key to successful volunteer engagement over the long run. However, you might also consider implementing more formal processes for getting feedback or reviewing their involvement. Some organizations send out an annual or biannual volunteer survey, which could be anonymous. Inquire about what programs or projects they help with; what other types of volunteer opportunities they’d like to see; how they feel about your organization and its volunteer management strategies; and other topics that could help you refine your system.
6. Maintain a Consistent Process for Discipline and/or Removal
Unfortunately, situations may arise where volunteers behave poorly, do something to harm the organization, or simply are not effective in terms of adding to your capacity. How you handle these situations is equally important to other aspects of volunteer management. Reprimanding or terminating a volunteer can be difficult for leaders for a variety of reasons, from wanting to take advantage of free labor to assuming all volunteers are inherently good people to being fearful of jeopardizing relationships with other volunteers. Putting a few strategies into practice may help alleviate discomfort and ensure all negative volunteer situations are dealt with consistently. For example, explore opportunities for coaching or training before disciplining or letting a volunteer go. If they’re having trouble working with certain personnel or their skills aren’t up to snuff, consider moving them to a different position and seeing how that goes. Adopt clear policies around probation, termination, and other disciplinary procedures; put them in writing and communicate them with volunteers during orientation. If you have to end a volunteer position, conduct an exit interview to get more insight and to create some closure for both parties.
7. Express Gratitude to Volunteers Routinely and Genuinely
Volunteers provide significant value to your organization. Part of successfully managing your volunteer workforce is offering your gratitude in a variety of ways. Have your staff members write emails or thank-you cards every so often. Recognize birthdays and other special occasions, as you would with staff members. Hold volunteer appreciation events at least annually, if not more frequently. Give appropriate shout-outs to your volunteers in your annual reports, digital and/or print newsletters, social media, and other outward-facing communication platforms. Remember that volunteers are people, first and foremost. Make sure they know it’s okay to step away for a few weeks, or even months, to avoid burnout or if they’re facing something difficult in their personal life. Little acts of gratitude and thoughtfulness will go a long way in fostering positive, long-term relationships with these key members of your organization’s support system.
Successfully Managing Volunteers at Your Nonprofit Organization
There are many facets to creating a successful volunteer base within your nonprofit organization, from recruiting the right people and giving them adequate training to providing engagement, support, feedback, and appreciation. You can use your nonprofit’s website, social media, newsletters and other publications to recruit and give recognition to your volunteers. Our team at Third Angle is well-versed in the nonprofit sector and can work with you to support your organization’s volunteer-building efforts across various platforms.