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.


How Nonprofit Leaders Can Make Their Own Self-Care a Priority

Why is self-care important to nonprofit leaders?

Self-care is essential to the overworked, overstressed and underpaid nonprofit leader's our well-being, but it doesn't mean the same thing to everyone. What constitutes self-care is up to that person, but generally includes taking time out of one's work schedule to relax, recharge and reinvigorate oneself in order to stay in the best health possible for as long as possible. Self-care can be as basic as getting enough sleep, maintaining a proper healthy diet, and exercising regularly, but self-care also includes what's necessary to maintain one's mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. It can include some or all of the following: 


Relaxation can be as simple as sitting with a cup of tea, legs curled up under you, reading a novel or magazine, knitting or doing other craft projects, or more along the lines of incorporating activities like meditation, yoga, tai chi, chi gong, guided imagery work, breath work, getting out in nature for a walk or to watch the sunrise (or set), into your life. 


Recharging activities can be relaxing or invigorating. It can include self-pampering activities like getting your hair or nails done, getting a massage or watsu session, taking a long, hot bath infused with essential oils like lavender, sandalwood or ylang ylang, reading for pleasure, taking time off from work, spending time with family and friends, spending time on your own doing something you love. 

Growing and Processing 

Going to see a counselor or therapist, spending time with family and friends, journaling, doing artwork, taking classes you're interested in whether in your field or learning about something completely different that interests you, attending a support, religious or spiritual group, volunteering and community service – giving back to others outside of your own organization. 

Don't shortchange yourself. Put self-care on your to-do list and make sure you keep it there. 

In this valuable article by nonprofit expert Susan L. Axelrod, the author reminds us of important self-care points in ways that will help people institute them in their lives or get back to them if they've let them go.  

Shallow breathing, racing thoughts, tight voice, hunched shoulders. Frazzled, overwhelmed, always behind.

The nonprofit practitioner? No, this was me after just listening to war stories from and reading about the stressed lives of nonprofit leaders.

Here are quotes from several nonprofit leaders with whom I have spoken in preparation for this article:

“I found myself face up in a hospital bed, having had a massive heart attack, asking myself, is this worth it?

“I lie in bed every night, my mind racing in fear of losing one grant that is 10 percent of our entire budget. How are we going to feed the families?”

“Right now, I’m huddled in a blanket in my home because I’ve used most of my own money to pay the bills for my organization; I can’t afford heat in my own house.”

“With one government grant take-back, I lost $15 million. My entire budget was $30 million. I fell to my knees.”

How Do You Feel Every Day When You Walk Through the Doors of Your Office?

Let me ask: How do you feel every day when you walk through the doors of your office? Do you feel energized, refreshed, excited, impassioned? Do you feel ready to take on the day, knowing your resources are in place and secure, and ready to Make Mission Happen?

Or, do you cross the threshold of your office and give a deep or subtle sigh, feeling the overwhelm of your reality come over you and settle like a cloud?

Likely, you fall somewhere in between as you race in and open email, hard mail, texts, and private messages, and listen to your voicemail. In numerous conversations, I heard versions of these comments:

“I feel tied to my devices, responding all day to emails and texts.”

“Many days I look up and can't believe four hours have passed. I feel like I haven't gotten anything done.”

“My to-do list doesn't begin to get addressed until after work hours.”

“I get home, take care of everyone else, and then sit down to get my work done. I average four hours of sleep per night.”

Abigail Goldberg Spiegel, executive director of Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles, said: “My greatest challenge is that I have multiple roles in my life, executive director, mom, spouse, president, friend, etc., and I find that a need in any one area pushes self-care to the back burner.” Sound familiar?

You know better than this though. You know the many “shoulds” about self-care — breathe, create email reading hours, get outside at lunch, take breaks during the day, exercise more, eat better… and doubtless, there are “shoulds” about your personal life.

But this simply is not realistic. Teams of humans have human needs. They are often understaffed and under-resourced. Board members too-often do not want to raise money. There are too many government cutbacks in your funding. Your facilities are aging. Technology and equipment are expensive — even your phones now cross the five-figure budgetary expense.

Now, back to the title questions:

  • What about me?
  • What do I want?
  • Does it matter?

HEAR THIS: You are important. Yes, yes, yes, because you lead! If you constantly subjugate your needs, your vision and leadership will suffer.

Get clear on what you want — crystal clear, so you know you’re on track, on point, on purpose (more on this later).

It DOES matter. It matters because you must lead from a position of clarity, strength, and passion. If you’re burned out, overwhelmed, unclear, then mission impact suffers.

What Is the Picture of Your Life?

Picture this: you drive up to your office building, sit in the car for just sixty extra seconds, take a deep, cleansing breath, and set an intention for your day.

You visualize exactly how you want to feel during the day, not how you want it to go (a vital difference!), but how you want to feel: calm, in control, okay about the choices you make with your time.

Then, as you cross the threshold of your office, you affirm your intention: “I control my thoughts and my actions. I control how I feel today.”

When you sit at your desk, you affirm again and instead of going straight to email, you look at your calendar for the day and week, and mentally set up yourself for self-care success.

Only you know what “self-care success” means to you. Is it creating a checklist? Writing action items? Clearly delineating specific accomplishments that support your more balanced mindset?

Sue Catroppa, executive director of CAPTAIN Community Human Services in Saratoga County, New York, told me that she has created self-care routines in her life to help her be present and to avoid anxiety about issues in the past or concerns about the future:

I use my commute for processing, something I don't have a lot of time to do during my day. I breathe and try to wind down. When I get home, I change out of my “work clothes” and put on “home clothes.” I try to be fully present while I’m prepping dinner, just to be in the enjoyment of cooking. I love that I can create and complete something in the meal because much of my work is of long duration — big projects, strategic priorities, program outcomes — and it feels like I never complete things. I put love into my cooking, take care with it, and feel an accomplishment with a finished product.

Other things she does for her good self-care routine include reading. “I read to fill my mind so that I don’t perseverate on problems at work,” she said. She also uses weekends to recharge: “I get outside and get filled up with nature where I easily find calm and can quiet my mind.”

How does everyone around you respond when you are in better balance, confident, in control, and happy?

Imagine Starting Every Day with a Good Self-care Routine

Imagine and visualize throwing your car into park, running in, pulling up email while also listening to voicemail, taking off your coat, having a conversation with the office manager, and still having the audible book on fundraising going in the background. Is this scenario too familiar to you? Perhaps you do not have to “imagine” this, no?

Now, imagine, instead, how it would feel to start each day with a good self-care routine. Can you see why it is important that you know you are important, that you know what you want, and that you realize how much you matter?

On Competing Priorities

Let's get real. The life of a nonprofit leader is filled with multitudes of competing priorities at work. Program, staffing, funding, finances, facilities, planning, communications, and community development — “what about me?!” doesn't even seem like an appropriate thing to contemplate!

Okay, I get it. But, how is the overwhelm going for you? What if you committed this year to doing it differently? To contemplate and integrate new self-care habits to be a best role model for your employees, to feel better and more self-responsible, and to feel more in control this year? What would that feel like? Desirable? What would that do for you? How would it change your life? Think about this a LOT. The result of that self-reflection is your “Why?” Why do I want to feel more in balance and to get better at self-care? This is vital to your self-care success. It is your Why that helps you when you fall off the self-care bandwagon.

One executive revealed that she falls off that bandwagon. When faced with a big dilemma at work, she lies awakes at night with her mind racing about what to do; she simply cannot get her mind to settle down from the anxiety. Then, she loses sleep, is doubly stressed at work, and feels short patience and increased irritation. Then she feels guilty and the not- merry-go-round spins.

And what if you arrive home with young children needing to eat and get their homework done, a dog needing walking, aging parents you need to check on, and a uniform that needs cleaning again?

Here is the answer:  I have no idea.

That’s the truth. That scenario described my life for nearly two decades — and my husband cooked, cleaned, and parented!  I went down to part-time working to try to address all of this (ask me about the breakdown I eventually had while trying to do THAT),  back to full-time to make more money to pay for more things and alleviate the financial stress (that didn’t work out so well either), then finally started consulting in order to have more flexibility.

The only thing that worked was when I did a values prioritization to get really clear on who and how I wanted to be as a professional, wife, mom, person, etc. During these busy family years, I eventually had to let go of perfectionism and the picture in my mind of what I thought life should look like.

Do you have a picture in your mind of what your life should be like as the perfect leader? See that picture — what can you redesign? What might come later?

Here’s a secret: everything doesn't have to happen right now. What can you drop out of that picture, for now, in order to get, feel, and be better, more in balance?

Ultimately, the goal is not what you want to do, but how you want to feel while you are accomplishing great work today, in better self-care balance.

Please think about that. What, what, what can you do to get a little better at self-care and balance this year? What new habits can you create and keep? What will it feel like? How do you think it might affect your organizational culture if you succeed?

This article was originally published by CharityChannel. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Susan L. Axelrod, CFRE, FRC, CCP, is an intuitive strategist with over thirty years of experience in the nonprofit sector. She helps people feel good about themselves and create purposeful connections in areas of deep and abiding interest. She helps clients get Conscious, Clear and Confident, and live in Purpose. See www.whatwillyourlegacy.com


Attract More Traffic to Your Nonprofit Website With Content Marketing Strategies

Nonprofit executive directors often need to wear a lot of hats, especially when you're first starting a new nonprofit or trying to grow to the next level. Becoming proficient at all the aspects of running and leading an organization requires flexibility and a learner's mindset. Add to that the need to switch to marketing mode and attract new donors with engaging and current website content.

If you are the writer of that content or if you have a designated content writer, you as the executive director need to know that using the best strategies for online marketing can make all the difference in driving more traffic to your website, your blog posts, social media pages and feeds.

What is Keyword Density?

"When writing blog posts and content for your website and social media, you must understand the needs and interests of your target audience and gear your writing towards them. Think like a party planner," suggests Libby Hikind, Founder and CEO of GrantWatch.com. "Think about it as if you were making a birthday party with a theme. You use that theme in the invitations, the cake, the napkins, the plates, the tablecloth, the thank you notes – etc – that is keyword density. Keyword stuffing would be repeating that word in nonsensical ways – while density is using the keyword, word phrases and synonyms in a manner that is informative, engaging and useful to the piece.

"The keyword is like the theme which will be repeated at least five times in your article, in the title, in the subtitle, in the search engine for SEO and SEM. The content of the article needs to be informative and smooth for the reader and for Google and other search engines.  People searching need to understand clearly the topic of the post when it comes up on their feed, or when they open the newsletter. They get that from the keyword density." 

You need to know who your target audience is and gear your writing to them. "Include the main keywords in the article's title, the article tag, the short description, and any alt tags or image tags as well, and in the article's first paragraph. Use words relevant to the article topic, that give you SEO juice.  If you choose words that are searched for very often on Google and other search engines you will have high competition and if you choose words not searched as often you will show up in more specific searches possibly attracting only the audience you seek. I like to use both kinds of words when choosing keywords. It can take a bit more time to figure them out, but it's worth it for the results you'll get," recommends Hikind.  

Keyword density is the number of words in the copy/number of times the keyword is mentioned. While there's no exact number of times a keyword should appear, it's best practice is to keep it to no higher than 2%. Anything higher is considered "keyword stuffing" and can harm your SEO.

The right keyword density will place your website or your blog post high in search engines. According to Hikind, it's important to, "Have three words or phrases that you will have used five times or more in the article. Before you start to write – think about the main idea of the article, page or post – stay focused and find the three keywords or keyword phrases that describe the main idea and are searched for quite often and use them often – but only as informative and relevant to the topic."

Jennifer Yesbeck, Marketing Manager for Amazon's Alexa, writes about the 18 Types of Keywords Every Marketer Should Know. Yesbeck provides detailed helpful advice on how to maximize traffic to your website.

The more specific the keyword or phrase, the less often it will come up in web searches, but the higher conversion rates it will generally have.  So, you can choose your main keywords depending on the purpose of your article, your audience and what you want to achieve through your post. 

Primary and Secondary Keywords

Use primary and secondary keywords to drive traffic to your posts. Make sure you choose a clear, often searched word or phrase as the keyword to target on each webpage. Each page of SEO content should have one primary keyword assigned to it. It should follow keyword optimization best practices so that the reader will know that that keyword is the focus of that page. Your primary keyword should make the purpose of the web page very clear to your visitors and readers. 

What is the Purpose of Your Post?

What phase of the purchase funnel is the post geared towards? If your post is about raising awareness or branding, you'll want to use informational keywords ("know"). This is the type of keyword to use if the purpose of your post is to teach people something, or let them know about your organization or company. Posts in the "consideration phase of the funnel" should use navigational keywords ("go"), and posts geared toward the "conversion phase of the funnel," getting people to buy, act or make some type of decision, should use "transactional keywords ("do").   

Define Your Website's Purpose 

Have your mission and vision clearly stated for your readers. Show your achievements and provide access to different activities such as events, training or email lists to join. If you're selling anything or looking for donations or volunteers, have buttons which will link them straight there with precise directions of what and how to do it. 

Write for Your Target Audience

The more people know about your nonprofit the better. Who do you think you'll appeal to? Who do you want to appeal to? Direct your message to them. How old are they? What professions are they in, or are they still in school? Where do they live? Are they in business? Do they work for the government or the community? Are they members of the clergy or congregants? Managers or workers? Trainees or trainers?  Choose your tone of voice depending on your target audience, and use the kind of language they use. A helpful article on identifying and prioritizing your target audiences is available on www.health.org.uk. 

Develop a Content Strategy

Every organization that needs to communicate with the public needs a highly developed content strategy to make sure they're not ignored or misunderstood. 

Content strategy is the "high-level vision that guides future content development to achieve a specific objective. If you do not have a clear picture of what you want to tell, whom and how, you will deliver content that does not resonate with the audience and leads to confusion," according to www.knowhownonprofit.org. 

Use content strategy to establish your organization's authority, engage the audience and drive traffic to your website. “Content” doesn’t just mean written copy. It includes everything – photos, videos, infographics, and more. Keyword-SEO Infographic

Come Up With Your Priority Topics 

Write a list of topics for posts for several months ahead depending on the purpose and audience you've chosen and organize them into several groups based on topics or "theme groups" to make sure you've included all types of content in the right proportion.  

Your articles or blog posts should give "added value" to the reader/subscriber/customer/contributor.  Not everything you write should be geared to the "sale or ask for donations." Write articles that give helpful and newsworthy information to your current readers and build your audience by making it sizzle. 

Though you have a schedule, be flexible so that you can publish breaking news and trending stories when the opportunity arises. Don't get bogged down in keeping to the schedule.

Websites like Sprout Social list the best times of day and days of the week to post on Facebook and other social media platforms for each social media platform for your industry.  Use that information to maximize your social media marketing strategy. 

Choosing Your Title

"How to" articles get a lot of traction as do blog posts with a number of steps or "listicles." Words and phrases such as "key" or "keys," – "The Keys to Successful Content Writing, " or "The Key to Finding the Clients You're Looking For…" and "Essential Ways To," or "Best Practices For," get lots of hits. 

When using numbers or steps such as "Eight Steps to Financial Freedom" (or is it Ten?), make sure it's not too few or too many.  

In summation: Understand keyword density; primary and secondary keywords and how to use them; know your purpose; write for your target audience; write your content strategy plan; come up with your priority topics; and choose great titles.

Executive Directors  – If you want to share what is novel and can be replicated about your nonprofit organization or small business and get some free publicity, sign up as a writer on GrantNews.com.

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