Apropos to this week’s National Volunteer Week 2011, and our most recent Spring Into Service event, this week’s blog will cover the topic of volunteer engagement and its contribution to the success of your organization.
A volunteer is defined as a person who voluntarily expresses a willingness to undertake a service. In the nonprofit world, recruiting, retaining and managing volunteers is a challenge but volunteers are a great resource that. If implemented correctly, your volunteer engagement program can create success and will also build a network of supporters promoting the work that your organization does.
Who Are They, These Kind, Giving, Community-Member-Volunteers?
Community members that voluntarily give assistance to your organization will represent a variety of characteristics (age, orientation to your organization, professional career/specialty), but they will be similar in that they all made the decision to take time to help your organization succeed in the work that you do. Here are a few different examples of types of volunteers you might hear from or see at your volunteer events:
1) The Community Volunteer: this volunteer is someone (or a group of someones) who come to support your organization at larger, volunteer-based community events—theater production, meal event, race, building renovation projects such as painting or organizing offices, classrooms or libraries, etc. They might have found you through community bulletin boards or through an online search Like United Way’s Volunteer Solutions site. These volunteers can be one-time volunteers or you might see them often. Both are a consistent contributor to the success of your events in the short term, and to the success of your organization in the long term.
2) The Long Term Volunteer: this volunteer is someone who has the desire to commit his or her help to your organization for an extended amount of time. Often this volunteer will be assigned a project like database management, file organization, and other organization-specific projects. These projects are created by the organization and the volunteer together making sure to have shared goals and expectations.
3) Your Board! Your board members in particular are the ambassadors of your organization’s mission and vision and serve the purpose of propelling you and your organization towards all the success and recognition that it deserves. It is important to note that the type of volunteering that board members do for your organization will depend on the age and maturity of your organization, your organization’s internal processes, staff size and mutual expectations between the board and your Executive Director.
Of course, all of your volunteers are ambassadors to your organization and this is extremely important to note as we move into the next section.
A Guide to Working With Volunteers
Above all and any guidelines to utilize when considering incorporating volunteers into your organization’s next fundraiser/5K/dinner event/community speaker/forum/roundtable etc, know this above all else: volunteers are not free help. There is a structure that must be built around your volunteer engagement program(s) to ensure that both your organization and your volunteers are content with the work being done and the relationships being established.
1) Empower Your Volunteers: HandsOn Network has tons of resources for developing volunteer programs for your organization that ensures consistency in the interaction between organization staff and volunteer community. Enabling volunteers to do the volunteer work without too much micro-management is best. An event that is staffed by volunteers needs to be properly planned to the point where volunteers can feel empowered to do what is asked of them independently (of course, there will always be questions and there must be staff available for this purpose). Additionally, it is always a good idea to identify volunteers that are consistently helpful, independent, focused and committed to the work that is being done through your nonprofit. These volunteers can be encouraged to take on a leadership role for future events, and might even have insight on how to run volunteer programs for your organization.
HandsOn Network has a publication for developing volunteer leaders that can be used as an aid in this process of empowering your volunteers.
2) Thank Your Volunteers: This is an integral piece of volunteer program coordination at all levels of volunteer management. Always keep a record of volunteers who worked at your event or who gave their time to your organization in any way. Thank yous can be as simple as a card or even an e-mail, and can be as extravagant as a gift bag (gift certificates, t-shirts, mugs, etc.) dependent on the event, your budget, and your volunteer population.
Follow these guidelines, and your volunteer community will increase and recruiting and retaining volunteers will become a more simple and directed process that will lead to a broader community understanding of your organization’s mission, vision and purpose.
Ilana Schuman-Stoler is an employee at Nonprofit Enterprise at Work at our Ann Arbor office as a Program Assistant. Feel free to contact Ilana regarding any of the advice, tools or service mentioned in this post by email at email@example.com or via phone at 734-998-0160 ext. 221
NEW’s mission is to help nonprofits succeed by strengthening nonprofit management and offering solutions to issues facing our nonprofit community.
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