4 Ways This Nonprofit Took Its Volunteer Management to the Next Level
RCS Pinellas is a 53-year-old nonprofit in Tampa Bay. Previously, the organization adopted a very specific business model to transition from a struggling organization facing liquidation to a thriving nonprofit with $8.5 million in assets.
One factor in its undeniable success is its volunteer base. RCS provides help and hope for 130,000 individuals per year with a staff of 80 and a volunteer force of 2,500. In 2019 alone, RCS volunteers contributed 20,000 hours to the mission of feeding the hungry, helping families facing homelessness return to self-sufficiency and empowering survivors of domestic violence. This represented an annual savings of $300,000, which means that approximately $0.90 of every dollar raised goes back to the RCS mission — and not into overhead.
COO Melinda Perry shared how they approach volunteer management — from recruitment and orientation through training, appreciation and retention. They’re practical and proven approaches that could also serve your nonprofit well.
Volunteer Management Is an Organization-Wide Priority
“All of our staff has responsibility related to RCS volunteer management,” Perry explains. “Every one of us is charged with recruitment, training and acknowledgment: We bring in friends, family, peers. Many of us work side by side with volunteers as part of our daily operations, so we’re also involved in their training — and in the perfect position to sincerely recognize their efforts.”
Key Staff Do Have More Specific Roles in Volunteer Management
At RCS, volunteer management happens at the program level. The executive directors and their staff direct the volunteers in their respective programs. The organization recently hired a volunteer development manager, replacing a more task-driven coordinator position. The HR specialist identifies a potential volunteer’s best program match, performs background checks and schedules orientation.
In total, 10 RCS staff members have direct responsibility for the organization’s 2,500 passionate volunteers.
Setting Expectations and Sharing the Mission Are Key
“We make sure we do a good job explaining what it’s like to volunteer with us: requirements for background checks, orientation, regular meetings as well as opportunities for cross-training and connection. During orientation, a video of our President and CEO Kirk Ray Smith explains the mission and our programs, and a PowerPoint really introduces them to all that we do—and how they can impact that.”
Because RCS operates a certified domestic violence center, The Haven, volunteers in that program must complete 30 hours of training before they can interact with guests. “We explain the time commitment aspect of it, but we’re informing, not deterring; the training will help the volunteer feel more comfortable and confident in their work.” At RCS, these specially trained volunteers answer the 24-hour domestic violence hotline; perform administrative tasks; help lead support groups; review police reports with staff to identify individuals at high risk of death, whom staff then contact and invite into the program; and work within court system to help survivors file restraining orders and support them during legal proceedings.
Use What You’ve Already Got: Seasoned Volunteers
“We make a point of partnering a new volunteer with a more seasoned one.” In this way, RCS frees up valuable staff time and creates mentoring relationships among volunteers. “Our volunteers say it’s very beneficial to be paired up during training — and beyond. They enjoy meeting new people. Peer-to-peer recruitment is also very effective for us. You can hear about a volunteer opportunity on the radio, but that appeal has less strength than a peer recommendation.”
Don’t Forget Your Closest and Most Informed Volunteers
RCS’ 14 board members and 85 volunteer committee members are not counted in their already impressive 2,500 figure. Board members contribute financially, of course, but also lend expertise, skill and connections. Committee members do the heavy lifting of event planning and production, and sponsorship solicitation, leaving RCS staff to concentrate on day-to-day operations.
Never Lose Sight of What’s in It for Them
In a word: socialization. Recognizing this need and building it into your volunteer program can result in increased retention and peer recruitment. “A lot of our volunteers want to connect with other people. So we help them do that.” As we mentioned, RCS pairs volunteers and fosters mentorships, but they also offer regular volunteer meetings in the break room with the dual purpose of sharing information and fostering communication and new connections. RCS also works hard to make sure volunteers feel their work is impactful, but they’re not locked in. “This is a volunteer opportunity; not a job.”
Be Sincere, Generous, Spontaneous and Strategic in Your Appreciation of Their Work
“It’s not a personal metric, but as an organization, we’re mindful of the power of individual, spontaneous ‘thank-yous’ to our volunteers. As you’re working next to someone or you see someone at work, telling them you appreciate them goes a long way.” RCS also recognizes volunteers who go above and beyond with a 'spotlight' — a photo and profile on social media that’s also posted in the break room. Another strategic appreciation tool is their annual volunteer luncheon.
RCS Boils It Down to 3 Words: Engage, Support, Appreciate
“We strive to build personal relationships and engage each volunteer as a person,” Perry says. “Then we listen to and support what they want out of their experience — giving additional training, working within their schedule, etc. And we show sincere appreciation — often and in big and small ways.”
Peter Gamache, PhD, is a research, development and evaluation specialist for health services organizations, private foundations and federally-funded public service organizations. His current research interests include disparities in health and mental health, integrated care, program fidelity and program outcomes. He advocates for a collective understanding of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and culture to prevent and address marginalization of people living with disease, illness, injury and disability.
Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, serves as the development director, systems analyst, and director of evaluation for Turnaround Life, Inc. She has more than 26 years of experience dealing with nonprofit management, overseeing operations, grant development, grant management, capacity building evaluation and performance assessment.
Jackie manages the overall operations and resources of the company and works to enhance and sustain customer relationships and capacity building with stakeholders. She has worked to secure more than $69 million in government grants and expanding systems of care and behavioral health treatment in Florida, Mississippi, New Orleans, Maine and Virginia. Of that total, $22 million was awarded in the past three years in partnership with Turnaround Life and Turnaround Achievement Network, LLC.
Jackie is a Certified Recovery Coach, and the former vice president of development of Operation PAR, Inc., and executive director of the LiveFree! Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Pinellas County. She earned her master’s with a concentration in nonprofit management and master’s in organizational management and leadership from Springfield College School of Professional and Continuing Studies, Tampa Bay campus.
She has taught graduate and undergraduate students as an adjunct faculty member for Springfield College Tampa Bay campus and currently serves as the president of its Community Advisory Board. Jackie founded Jackie Sue Griffin & Associates, LLC in 2013 to provide nonprofit organizations, health and human services, and government agencies consulting expertise and technical assistance in fund development and philanthropy and capacity building.