7 Tips for a Great Volunteer Experience
In a small nonprofit, time is precious. You likely have more to do than you can possibly get done, so how do you manage it? One common solution is to recruit volunteers to help.
Sometimes when I mention volunteers in trainings or to time-crunched nonprofit directors, I see eyes rolling. It seems that many have had bad experiences with volunteers. Personally, I've had great experiences recruiting and utilizing volunteers.
Volunteers can add a lot to your organization. They can bring specific expertise that you need or provide extra hands to get tasks done. They're usually enthusiastic about the work done by the nonprofit and excited for the opportunity to help. Plus, when they have a good experience volunteering, they turn into incredible ambassadors for the organization, spreading the word about the good work you do.
Done right, recruiting and using volunteers can be a huge blessing. Done poorly, they're headaches. So how do you manage volunteers right? Here are seven tips to make sure that both your volunteers and you have a mutually beneficial experience.
Be clear about volunteer jobs
Be clear about what you need volunteers to do. Before you begin recruiting, spend some time thinking through what you want help with. Make a list of tasks to be done, being as specific as possible. Written job descriptions are ideal but not necessary. Don't expect volunteers to know what needs to be done. If you put this expectation on the volunteers, be prepared for some frustrated volunteers. They'll look to you to tell them what needs to be done and how to do it.
Recruit for ongoing jobs
It's best to recruit volunteers for ongoing jobs vs. one-time jobs. For example, if you need help with data entry or filing, then recruit someone to come in one or two afternoons each week to help with these tasks. You'll spend a little time training in the beginning, but it will pay off quickly. Ongoing volunteers become an extension of your staff, and it's easy to think of them and treat them like staff. Just remember to thank them regularly for their huge commitment to your organization!
Don't agree to volunteers who can only come once unless you have a huge project. It takes time to get a volunteer trained and working, and that time is wasted if the volunteer can only work a few hours and doesn't plan to return.
Prepare volunteers for the job
Make sure your volunteers are prepared for the job they agreed to. Be honest with volunteers about time commitments. Let them know how long they'll need to be prepared to work. (We all like to know when quitting time is, right?) In addition, let them know what they should wear (business attire, jeans and sneakers?). Should they bring lunch? Where should they park? Give them as much information as you can so they'll know what to expect on the first day.
Be prepared to spend time with volunteers
Be prepared to spend time with volunteers to orient them on their first day. If the job contains multiple tasks, give volunteers written directions. Spending time with volunteers to get them acclimated to your facility and helping them feel comfortable with their jobs will help ensure happy and satisfied volunteers down the line. They are giving their time just as donors give their money, so make them feel wanted and needed. It will pay off for you. Don't just throw volunteers in and expect them to figure it out. Do what it takes to orient them so they can be successful in their roles.
Prepare your staff for volunteers
Let other staff members know when volunteers are coming and what they will be doing. Encourage staff to welcome volunteers and make them feel at home. Be sure to make introductions to the entire staff on a volunteer's first day.
Help volunteers feel comfortable
Help volunteers feel comfortable on their first day by showing them where they can find the restroom, fix a cup of coffee, etc. Make sure you let them know who to ask if they have questions. The goal is to help them feel comfortable in your organization, not like outsiders.
Check in on your new volunteers periodically to see how they're doing and if they need anything. They'll appreciate your concern.
Show appreciation to volunteers
Show appreciation often and in meaningful ways! Treat volunteers as important members of your team, and thank them as such. Send thank-you notes or e-mails. Acknowledge volunteers in newsletters or on websites. Remember to acknowledge all your volunteers in a special way during National Volunteer Week each April. (This year it's April 15-21.) FS