Volunteer Engagement Is a Two-Way Street
I constantly work with volunteers either in my work role or in my consulting role observing numerous organizational structures. It is an important fact that in the nonprofit world, volunteers are needed. Staff cannot handle operational demands alone. The number of nonprofits continues to grow and as they grow, new volunteer boards are created, plus volunteer programs expand. The goal of utilization of volunteers should be to recruit quantity plus quality. As volunteer numbers increase, does the true ownership of volunteers in the success of the nonprofit enterprise also increase?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that a quarter of Americans volunteered through an organization in 2015. Without volunteers, there are staff limitations. It is also true that people are positively impacted when they volunteer, so volunteerism is a win-win situation for nonprofits and volunteers.
According to the National Council of Nonprofits, many organizations run with no paid staff at all, which makes volunteers essential to their mission. Volunteers gain flexibility, problem-solving and ability to take initiative when they volunteer. Many people volunteer due to a perceived happiness effect. Others do not volunteer because this opportunity does not speak to what they value, or they do not have time.
NOLO shares that retaining good volunteers can be a challenge for nonprofits. To reap the maximum benefits that come from volunteers, it is important to retain them for a long term. To keep volunteers coming to your organization over time, tap into volunteers’ motives and find out why they want to volunteer, tell volunteers what you expect by providing formal training, make volunteering convenient based upon number of hours to work and flexibility as to when to work, make volunteering fun by exploring new ideas and show appreciation for them by saying thank you early and often.
The Fundraising Authority emphasizes the role of training for success to occur. The volunteer needs to know your charity and your mission, vision and plans. Just as staff needs orientation, every volunteer needs orientation on your organization, plus job specific training. Offer volunteers constant support, motivation and growth opportunities. Provide volunteers with constant feedback, positive reinforcement and recognition. Track and monitor performance, plus seek ways to improve their performance over time.
According NCVO/KnowHow, organizations need to keep appropriate boundaries between paid staff and their volunteers, while ensuring both groups are treated equally. Phrase volunteer relationships in terms of expectations rather than obligations. Vantage Point states that volunteers should be held accountable. Set clear expectations and deliverables up front — holding people accountable to those agreed upon expectations and deliverables, plus terminating (kindly and gracefully) a volunteer when they do not deliver.
Keith Webb, in his “12 Keys to Increasing Volunteer Engagement” article, comments that volunteer participation is the engine that runs our society. Everyone needs to increase both the number of volunteers and their engagement.
Through best practices, the value of a volunteer according to an Independent Sector study is $24.14 an hour, and this will continue to rise in the future, writes Volunteer Hub. There is a need for skill-based volunteerism. Organizations need volunteers and are creating additional value for supporters in exchange for their valuable time. Incentives include volunteer career development opportunities, virtual volunteering and flexible scheduling options.
VolunteerHub shares six ways to quickly improve the volunteer experience:
- Enhancing communication through email and social media.
- Leveraging volunteer insights by creating a volunteer satisfaction survey.
- Offer volunteers incentives that matter, such as proof of work impact, convenient scheduling, food and ongoing training.
- Make a good first impression and ask volunteers to serve.
- Create a social environment for supporters.
- Invest in volunteer management software to improve experiences.
Volunteer engagement is a two-way street. Treat the volunteers like you would like to be treated. Provide written job descriptions, and make sure volunteer expectations and your expectations are on the same page. Praise and thank the volunteer and monitor their work performance. Constantly seek feedback and provide coaching. Motivate and communicate constantly.
Most importantly, make sure the volunteer feels true ownership in your organization and the role you are asking them to perform. Recruit and train well, but do not be afraid to cut ties if a mutual positive relationship is not being realized. With experience, you will quickly understand the value of each one of your volunteers. Never take any volunteer for granted. They are the lifeblood of a nonprofit organization.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.