10 Best Practices in Volunteer Management

Do you have all the volunteers you need for your programs?  Do you know how to make the most of your volunteers’ talents and the opportunities they present?

Finding volunteers and the best ways to identify their strengths and fit them into your nonprofit organization can be a challenge. Volunteers are the backbone of nonprofit organizations. Many volunteers feel underutilized and can do so much more than they’re given the opportunity. to do.

Here are 10 best practices gleaned from a Canada Volunteerism Initiative report, Best Practices in Volunteer Management.  

Lay a strong foundation

1. Value the Role of Volunteers

When not valued, volunteers tend to leave the organization, so, let people know how much you value them. A great way is by putting it in writing in your literature, policies and your volunteer recruitment information. Investing money and staff time to build your volunteer program and taking care of your volunteers can yield great benefits for your nonprofit organization.

2. Define Rules and Expectations

Have clear policies and procedures for your volunteers. Screen volunteers to keep out anyone who might pose a risk to you or your clients. Policies define your group’s rules, beliefs, and values, and its expectations of volunteers. They help you treat everyone fairly. Most importantly, you can protect your group from liability by writing policies that specify the steps that must be followed to protect clients and volunteers.

3. Develop Your Volunteer Management Skills

Pay attention to how to attract and keep your volunteers. Have someone, whether it’s a staff person, a volunteer, or a committee, who is responsible for developing a core set of skills, including writing recruitment messages, designing volunteer jobs, providing feedback to volunteers, creatively recognizing volunteer contributions, resolving conflicts, avoiding risks, developing orientation and training materials, and motivating others to help out. This person or committee can also be a voice for volunteer interests within your group. To build these skills, look for the web sites of different volunteer centers or volunteer management resources and ask people who work well with volunteers for tips. Most importantly, ask the volunteers you work with for feedback on how you’re doing!

Develop volunteer jobs and get the right people 

4. Reduce Client and Group Risk

Some volunteers might pose a risk to your clients or nonprofit. They could physically harm people or steal from you. Reduce these risks by screening all volunteers to at least some degree. This might mean getting everyone to fill out an application form and provide references. You might require all regular volunteers to go through a short interview.

5. Create Clear Assignments

Having clear job assignments makes it easier to recruit volunteers. Volunteers deserve a job title as well. This should tell potential volunteers what you’d like them to do, what qualifications they need, how many hours you want them to work, and what they’ll get in return. After all, the word “volunteer” reflects what they get paid, not what they do. Tell volunteers the purpose of their job and how it will help your group achieve its goals. Consider what motivates volunteers to get involved and what needs to be done when recruiting and giving out tasks.

6. Reach Beyond Your Circle

Simply saying “We need help!” isn’t the most effective way to recruit volunteers. Think about what you need people to do and what volunteers would like to do. Write job descriptions that reflect these tasks and then let people know what jobs are available and the skills needed. Get the word out by targeting places where your ideal volunteers are likely to work or play.

Create an environment where volunteers feel they belong and want to stay

7. Provide Orientation and Training for Volunteers

All volunteers should get information on the history, mission, structure and programs of your organization as well as training and information regarding their assignments. It will help them raise your group’s profile when people ask about their volunteer work. More importantly, the volunteers will know where they fit in and how they are contributing to your group.

8. Provide Supervision

Like paid staff, volunteers require direction and feedback on how they are doing. They need a supervisor, someone to say, “Good job!” or, “How’s the job going?” or, “You don’t seem to be enjoying this task. What would work better for you?” Volunteers also need someone who will respond to their concerns and give them more work or more of a challenge when they’ve shown they can handle it.  Volunteers in more complex or risky positions should get more supervision. Supervisors should regularly check in to both give and receive feedback.

9. Make Your Volunteers Feel Like They Belong

Show them you want their input and involvement. Invite them to staff and planning meetings when appropriate. Send them emails about developments in the nonprofit organization. Invite them to the staff holiday party. Efforts like these show volunteers how much you value them. Volunteers who feel valued and engaged in their work, are more likely to hang around.

10. Recognize Your Volunteers’ Contributions

Frequently acknowledging volunteers’ contributions, whether through formal or informal types of recognition will ensure your volunteers feel wanted, needed and appreciated. So, whether it’s a plaque, an official awards dinner, a pizza dinner when they finish a day long program, or just a thank you note, don’t wait for months to pass to acknowledge their contributions.   Consider linking the reward to the individual. Be creative, but make sure the type of recognition is important to the volunteers (ask them what they prefer!)

Find grants for developing volunteer programs and gaining volunteer management training on GrantWatch.

About the Author: The author is a staff writer for Grantwatch and GrantNews.

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