Published by Kerry on 01 Sep 2010 at 03:57 pm
If you think your nonprofit’s volunteering management strategy could stand a few brush-ups, you’re in the majority. In a study of over 2,000 nonprofits, just 17% were deemed strong/effective at volunteer management. In an engaging session yesterday at Nonprofit Day 2010, we learned some important ways volunteerism and service can be better leveraged by organizations.
Volunteer management: strengthening your organization
In the session, titled The New Volunteerism: What You Should Know About The Next Wave of Service, three experts and a moderator from across sectors took us through the many facets of managing volunteers and how to assess your own procedures.
Karen Baker, the Secretary of Service and Volunteering for the state of California, represented the public sector. From the corporate foundation world was Chief Foundation Officer Bobbi Silten of the Gap Foundation. Peter York, Senior Vice President at the TCC Group, came from a research and nonprofit board perspective. CompassPoint‘s Executive Director Jeanne Bell moderated with pertinent experiences of her own.
Based on a large study from the TCC group, nonprofits with 50+ volunteers and a strong volunteer management model had significantly and markedly stronger organizational capacity than those who didn’t.
How to scale and improve your volunteer infrastructure
According to the TCC study, as the organization budget rises, human resources management practices tank. The presenters offered tips for tackling this and other challenges.
Some fundamental points include:
- Make volunteering fundamental, not an add-on: Volunteers can manage volunteers, and help with such capacity building as admin and fundraising. Build in programs where volunteers’ talents are engaged.
- Don’t let supply dictate volunteer programs: Don’t take on every volunteer, only those whose skills are valuable to your organization. Some may distract from your programs, so try to give them a home with other partners.
- In order to get a return, you have to invest: In some organizations, there was at least a 4 times rate of return for their investment in volunteers. Managing humans requires investment in human resources, or deep problems such as conflict, poor use of volunteers and low retention will inevitably arise as you scale.
Practical tips for successful volunteer management
The speakers offered many concrete techniques for adding effectiveness to your volunteer programs. Some of these included:
- Assign a board member to keep tabs on volunteer/service development: Supporting your volunteer force requires sign-on from multiple levels.
- Think about partners you could share training with: Build coalitions with similar organizations to share the load of volunteer training, and pool talent. Make sure your organizational “cultures” align, such as execution-based vs. slow and steady.
- Don’t underestimate the value of offering volunteer positions: Many corporations and businesses value the opportunity to have their workers feel grounded and connected to a deeper mission. Promote your volunteer opportunities with confidence.
- Consider family volunteering and fellowships: If you can, including periodic youth programs and small fellowships (they don’t need to be anything fancy) can keep your workforce inspired and add to your mission.
- Don’t forget about service: Service-based volunteers such as AmeriCorps can be a big asset to your organization.
- Consider the sustainability of your volunteer force: As unpaid workers, volunteers’ situations will change and some of them may leave quickly. Be realistic about training timeframes, treat them with respect, and make sure you have at least a backup or two for the work. Don’t, as one speaker said, give them a master’s degree in the position, but do give them ample resources and training.
- Keep a whiteboard: Write up the skills you need, ask clients and donors, and keep the board up somewhere, such as your website, where potential volunteers can find it. Don’t underestimate the value of new college grads who seek experience.
Volunteerism and service pay off for nonprofits
Volunteering “changes the core economics of organizations.” Some organizations are able to leverage volunteers 10-20 times as much as paid staff. The speakers recommended a proactive versus reactive approach to planning for your volunteers, and noted that the investment pays large dividends.
How do you help your volunteers find satisfaction, engagement, and a place to put their skills to work?
Many valuable tips by four insightful and hard-working speakers in the field. Many thanks to them for a great session!
Photo by Tukanuk
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