There’s No One Like a Volunteer

“Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.”                  – Sherry Anderson

I have always admired a genuine heart, a comforting smile and one who gives with no pretense.  A volunteer is the embodiment of giving without expecting something in return.  In 2016, a nonprofit poll estimated that 25% of Americans engaged in some form of volunteering to support a variety of organizations and causes.  That’s a novel sum! Volunteers are the backbone of many nonprofits – without them the mission would greatly suffer.  Keep reading for tips to build and retain a wonderful group of volunteers.

 Invest in a Quality Volunteer Training Program:   Your organization’s impact is directly affected by the people who carry out the tasks and engage the community you serve.  Organizational structure dictates that we invest in our employees.  But volunteers invest in the organization. So shouldn’t there be an investment of time and resources in training them the same way we train paid staff? Absolutely.  A well-designed Volunteer Training Program will attract people who want to learn a new skill, develop a professional or technical ability, and contribute on a higher level.  Ongoing training will help retain those volunteers for years to come.

Set Clear Expectations and Provide Resources:  The nonprofit manager should treat volunteers as the lifeblood of the mission.  To help them be effective members, they will need specific guidelines to follow. One way to build a great team is to issue a Volunteer Handbook, outlining workplace ethics, a dress code, the chain of command, resources that are available to them, contact numbers, etc.  Volunteers should be respected as part of the team. By providing them with expectations and guidelines, you are affirming their importance in the organization.

Do Away with Volunteer of the Month:  There are far better ways to show appreciation.  Volunteer and Employee of the Month is outdated, in my humble opinion.  In today’s digital world, we can show appreciation to volunteers by featuring them on social media, the organization’s website, in written articles, press releases and by introducing them at community functions. Let’s face it – most people like to be recognized. Volunteers deserve it far more than they receive it. Think about the last time you saw a “Volunteer of the Month” plaque. Did you really pay attention to the individual’s name or the role they fulfill?  Now think about a portrayal of volunteerism with photos on Facebook or Twitter. Some of those posts go viral quickly. Which one do you think creates the most recognition? Social media wins every time.  You can recognize a volunteer every week on the web, including a little bio, photos, the fantastic contributions they are making, etc…BUT, make sure you have their permission to post. It’s even nice if they can participate in creating an article. Some volunteers are shy, and prefer not to have any “fuss” made about them. In that case, a thank-you card or a free lunch is great way to show appreciation.

Appreciation Events:   I know of an organization that hosts an annual Spring Dinner and December Holiday Banquet for their volunteers. They spare no expense to give them a first class dinner and upscale gifts including fuel cards.  Your organization may not have the resources to get ultra fancy, but you can still honor them in similar fashion. Hire a local musician and host a Volunteers-Only BBQ. Invite them to bring their families and beverages of their choosing.  Give them their own company picnic! Many nonprofits are offered complimentary tickets to events – why not pass them along to volunteers?

Know their Value:  We’re not simply talking about the hourly wage equivalent, although that is also important. The true value is in their giving, which presents nonprofit management with a special opportunity.  Remember, if you delegate tasks, you create followers. But when you delegate authority, you create leaders.  Creating leaders in your organization can yield sustainable projects and programs, fostering a culture for many successful years.

Thank you, volunteers, for placing an emphasis on others and giving so much of yourselves.