5 Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Managing Volunteers
Many organizations are recruiting volunteers for various projects year-round. Food banks need people to pass out meals, schools need extra support in classrooms, and nursing homes need volunteers to assist the elderly.
While having plenty of volunteers on hand can be great for accomplishing your organization’s goals, managing volunteers isn’t the same as managing paid staff. Volunteers may not legally be able to do certain types of tasks, such as handling biowaste in a hospital or accessing confidential documents.
They may also need training before starting their work. If you’re recruiting volunteers to help with a community garden, they may need to learn about compost, soil composition and companion plants before starting. In addition, volunteers often have full-time jobs and other obligations. This means you’ll need to be more flexible with their schedule than you would an employee.
Let’s review five common mistakes organizations make when managing volunteers. Preventing these mistakes will help you retain volunteers while maximizing productivity.
1. Using Ineffective Scheduling Strategies
Investing in quality volunteer management software is a must. Without it, you run the risk of overscheduling or under-scheduling volunteers. After all, no one else in your office will know a volunteer is scheduled to come if you write their shift on a sticky note on your desk. Without an effective scheduling strategy, you’ll also be answering a lot more phone calls from volunteers who are confirming or canceling their shifts.
Volunteer software can make recruiting and scheduling volunteers easier than ever. This software keeps your volunteers’ information in one convenient location, sends out automatic reminders, assigns volunteers to tasks and even lets them sign up on their own, freeing up even more of your time.
Volunteer coordinators can also create recurring volunteer opportunities. For example, if your organization requires five volunteers every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, you can display these events indefinitely. Scheduling a volunteer is then as easy as assigning a volunteer’s name to the task.
2. Treating Volunteers Like Paid Staff
Volunteers are willing to help your organization grow — for free! That means you should try to get as much help from them as possible, right? Not exactly. To prevent burnout, don’t overload your volunteers. Many volunteers will start out gung-ho, saying yes to anything and everything. They may even work themselves to the point of exhaustion.
Because they’re passionate about their work, these volunteers may not let on that they’re tired. Check in with volunteers often to make sure the workload is still manageable. Volunteers’ situations can change, and their tasks may need to shift accordingly. For example, a college student may start volunteering in her fall semester when they have a lot of time, but may have a heavier course load when the spring semester starts.
Always treat your volunteers with respect. Honor the fact they’re choosing to participate rather than working to collect a paycheck. Volunteer coordinators can show respect by being mindful of their interests. If they signed up to deliver meals for your nonprofit, think twice before asking them to clean the office bathrooms. Paid staff are financially compensated for unpleasant tasks. Volunteers do them from the goodness of their hearts.
3. Not Having Enough Work for Volunteers
On the flip side, another common problem organizations have when managing volunteers is underutilizing them. Volunteers want to feel like they’re contributing to a worthy cause, and one way you can make sure this happens is by keeping them busy.
Before posting a volunteer opportunity, think realistically about how much time the task will take and how many volunteers you need. It may take one person five hours to repaint a small room in the office, while it may take a group of six volunteers only one hour.
Inform your volunteers of tasks they can do if they’re experiencing downtime. If you’re in a meeting and a volunteer finishes filing the folders you gave them, let them know it’s OK to answer phone calls or tidy up the waiting room. Keep in mind that volunteers need direction. They won’t automatically know what you want them to do.
4. Ignoring Volunteer Feedback
Keep a suggestion box in your organization’s lobby. This way, volunteers can give you feedback on what’s working and what’s not. The process can be as simple as writing a suggestion on a slip of paper and dropping it in the box.
You might learn that your volunteers are unclear about what’s expected of them in a certain project. They might even have a creative solution to a problem you didn’t know your organization had! For example, maybe your volunteer tutors fifth graders in the back of a noisy classroom. They may suggest moving the group to the library to cut down on distractions.
Show your volunteers that you’re listening to their feedback. If they’ve mentioned having to use a broken dolly cart to transport boxes, replace the cart as soon as possible. If a volunteer isn’t clicking with another volunteer, pair them up with someone with whom they’re more compatible.
5. Not Recognizing the Work Volunteers Do
Most volunteers don’t like to make a big fuss about their work, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t recognize their valuable contributions. Set aside funds to host an end-of-year holiday party for volunteers. Highlight a “Volunteer of the Month” in your organization’s newsletter and focus on the work of an individual.
Include your volunteers in award ceremonies for your organization. You can recognize volunteers for the number of service hours they’ve contributed, the amount of money they’ve fundraised and the types of projects they’ve carried out.
Say “thank you” often. Let them know they’re appreciated!
Don’t get overwhelmed by the thought of managing a large number of volunteers. Avoiding these five pitfalls will allow you to spend less time on the administrative side of managing volunteers and more time meeting your organization’s goals.
The preceding post was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Eric Burger is the director of marketing for BetterGood, an organization that creates exciting products, including VolunteerHub, that help organizations touch lives and make an impact within their communities. Eric has worked in the business-to-business software industry for eight years and has more than 12 years of experience in digital marketing.