6 Truths About Volunteers
An engaged and active volunteer base is the brass ring for many non profits. The keys to success are: finding the right volunteer for specific needs, keeping them involved, ensuring the work is meaningful, and effective project management skills. Your organization and your life will be more vibrant for the relationships you forge with your volunteers. The following are my universal truths to working with volunteers:
Truth 1: Understand the volunteer job. You are asking for help because you can’t get the job done yourself, but you have to take the time to understand the scope of the job or project. Ask people who know how to do this job to explain it to you, know what you are asking someone to do, how long it will likely take, and the specific skill set it requires. Asking a parent to chair the spring auction fundraiser or serve on the admissions committee are different roles and the respectful and savvy recruiter knows the difference and what traits are needed for success in each role.
Truth 2: Meet as many parents or donors as you can. If you are at a school, do your research, meet with admissions staff in the summer to get as much information about incoming parents as possible. Know each parent’s profession, hobbies, availability, and desire to volunteer. Now put on your extrovert hat and get out of your office and talk with parents in the carpool line, on the soccer field sidelines, or on the playground after school. Be where parents gather and talk with them. At a non-profit, be sure to meet your donors and attendees at the programs you host and enter their contact info in your database. These are people who already believe in your mission. Several of them could bring massive value to your organization if only they were asked to help you.
Truth 3: Thoughtfully match volunteers to the needs of the organization. The blanket email plea for volunteers for Fall Block Party might yield a few intrepid souls, but your volunteers that are invested, excited, and willing to share their considerable talent are the ones that you directly ask to help you because you know they are the right people for the job. Call, don’t email, for a more meaningful approach.
Truth 4: Give them tools to succeed. Volunteers want to partner with the organization and with you. Once you have identified the right person for the job, the savvy manager knows that no volunteer should fail in his job. Ever. They need information, resources, and enough of your time to understand what is expected. It's vital that you actively manage them and ensuring that they achieve the stated goals. They need encouragement and feed-back…just like a co-worker, because that’s what they are.
Truth 5: Share the glory. Carefully chosen, coached, and managed volunteers will make you look very good at your job. Acknowledge the talents of your volunteers at every opportunity, in every public communication that makes sense, and with every leader in your organization who will listen. Only good things will come from your genuine appreciation of volunteers.
Truth 6: Volunteers make monetary gifts to the organization because they are invested in your organization. Data suggests that volunteers are twice as likely to give as non-volunteers. Savvy leaders invest in their volunteers to build capacity, raise awareness, and forward the mission of the organization.
www.inspiredsm.com first published a version of this for me in 2015.