Strategic Planning, Talent & Training

Volunteers, especially in smaller nonprofit organizations, are an invaluable resource. Many of these small organizations are often run entirely by volunteers. According to Independent Sector, as of April 2018, “The updated value of a volunteer hour is the equivalent of $24.69, and 63 million Americans volunteered about 8 billion hours of their time, talent and effort—contributing about $197.5 billion to our nation.” If leveraged well, volunteers can become a “noticeable, yet unnoticed line” on your income statement. They can help cut expenses and bolster revenue. Below are some critical points to consider when setting up your volunteer program and its participants for success in a small shop:

Recruiting volunteers: The importance of matching volunteer skills and interests with opportunities available in your organization cannot be underscored enough.

Efficiency: Online tools, like, cost very little and cut down on recruitment time. Facebook is also another valuable resource to build volunteer interest, especially with those who often prefer to volunteer in groups and/or with friends.

Sources: Referrals found through concentric circles of influence such as loyal donors, current volunteers, staff, and board members, will make some of your next, best volunteers.

Timing: A recruitment campaign during the summer months can work well when other traditional campaigns are often on hiatus. Summertime is also a great season to present new volunteer opportunities that can include the whole family as participants, thus expanding the network.

Managing volunteers: It is important to support and gain feedback from volunteers and to assess their satisfaction with each role they play within the organization.

Accountability: A volunteer handbook is helpful to best orient the volunteer to the organization and should include items like the mission and organizational chart, prohibited conduct, and policy on reimbursement of expenses. Make sure to know the legal implications to clarify when background checks are a must for volunteer needs.

Staffing: In a small shop, budgets for paid volunteer staff are usually slim to none. Recruiting a volunteer to be your volunteer manager may be a necessary and best step. Consider drafting a formal job description for the volunteer position and set a timeline and deadline for filling it. Additionally, tracking the names, number of volunteers, and amount of time that they contribute to the organization can prove to be invaluable. As new volunteer opportunities arise within the organization, matching past volunteers interests and efforts with new ones will become effortless. Also, grant funders often seek measurements of community engagement in determining funding decisions, so aggregating the number of volunteers and amount of time volunteers contribute is paramount.

Training: In developing orientation and job-specific training, the goal should be to equip volunteers with the tools and confidence to know how to do their jobs well. Orientation should cover the history, mission, and policies of the organization. Job-specific training should cover the goals of the task, how to accomplish it, and how to handle an emergency if presented. Understanding all aspects of the expectations of their volunteer commitment is critical to an overall positive volunteer experience and retaining their involvement long-term.

Retaining volunteers: As it is with the donor community, renewing the commitment of committed volunteers provides for great efficiencies and is much more cost effective than having to always acquire new ones.

Recognition: Recognition serves as a means to easy renewal. Tying a volunteer’s contribution to the overall success of the organization is critical. Annually celebrate volunteers through a thank-you event showcasing the multiple positive implications their time donated had on the organization. Ideas such as visually demonstrating the positive financial impact of a volunteer hour contributed and the emotional and supportive connections established through anecdotal notes or video by the clients they served. Throughout the year, capture and share photos, recognize volunteers, and share their stories on your website and through social media channels.

Renewal: Incorporate into the development calendar an annual sign up to formally or informally ask volunteers for their commitment for the next year. Renew during the same timeframe each year, so volunteers can expect the ask and be prepared with their answers.

A well-run volunteer department can unlock new opportunities which may not have otherwise been realized. By incorporating these simple yet important aspects of volunteer recruitment, management, and retention into your small-shop annual development plan, your organization will expand its ability to implement more of its long-term strategic plan. You will also enjoy a bigger, better footprint in your community.

For more information on developing strategies for managing your small development shop and leveraging volunteer time and expertise to grow your organization, contact Lani McCollar. BWF has the tools to work with organizations of all sizes and is dedicated to helping our clients succeed and thrive.