Developing this post was a challenge I’m turning into an opportunity (yes I know, BIG BIG cliché). I’m doing this because an organization I had hoped to volunteer for did everything WRONG at every turn. It was truly disappointing.
In the interest of turning those lemons into lemonade, I’m going to flip the unfortunate interactions into suggested best practices. If you work in the nonprofit industry and manage volunteers, chances are you’ll read these and say “well, of course – doesn’t everyone do that!” But, my experience tells me these few simple matters of common sense, courtesy and stewardship aren’t as prevalent as we might think they are. Here we go:
- Respond to the inquiry within 24 Hours (or at least really, really close to it): OK I get it. Not every nonprofit has a dedicated volunteer manager or staff largest enough to do this. And of course there are times when things fall through the cracks. The takeaway: Get back to the volunteer as promptly as possible within the constraints of your staffing. Most approaches are acceptable as long as their consistent. Do Not – I repeat - DO NOT MAKE A VOLUNTEER CHASE YOU DOWN.
- Have more than One Opportunity to Volunteer: Far too many nonprofits (not yours of course!) will say that the best way to “volunteer” is to raise money for the organization. Listen, I’m a fundraiser and love to do what we do. And I love working with volunteers that love to fundraise and do it successfully. But not everyone wants to fundraise. And In fact, some volunteers that are great fundraisers want to add another dimension to their commitment. So, look for opportunities to engage your volunteers in other ways i.e. advocacy, office assistance, social media – you get the point.
- Have a key point of contact for a Volunteer: Have a system in place where new volunteers are assigned a key point of contact. Naturally, volunteers are going to find a home with any number of areas in your organization. But be sure that they have an initial contact that ensures their placement. There’s nothing more disheartening to a volunteer than being passed from one staff member to another with no sense of direction or follow up ensuring that the volunteer ended up in a good spot. (OK, I went a little negative there. Hey, I’m human)
And finally, the BIG ONE
- Do What You Say You’re Going to Do: It sounds so easy so why, why, why (yes 3 times) is it so hard?? If I had the answer to that well, I’d have the answer to that. But I don’t. In the meantime, just be honest in your interactions with volunteers. If you’ll have something right up their alley in 3 weeks, tell them you’ll be back to them in 3 weeks (although you might want to say hi in between). If current board opportunities require a different skill set than theirs, be honest enough to say so and offer them alternatives. At the end of the day, the only thing your volunteers are asking for is respect for their time, honesty in how they can contribute and a thank you. I think that’s the best deal you’ll find.