Volunteers are one of the unique and distinguishing aspects of the nonprofit sector. In fact, many people call the nonprofit sector the “volunteer sector. ” That is because the majority of the organizations, large and small, rely on volunteers to hand out food, make telephone calls, serve on boards of directors and committees, work in food banks, staff gift shops and museums and handle thousands of other tasks.
The IRS also recognizes the value of volunteers by allowing us to credit volunteer hours on grant proposals and other documents and has even established an in-kind contributions value for both professional and lay volunteers.
In over 99.5 percent of nonprofit organizations, the boards and committees are staffed by volunteers.
There is a significant responsibility on the part of the staff and board to make sure the volunteers and are recruited, trained, supported and recognized. It is not enough just to advertise that you need volunteers, it is critical that you have a strategy to effectively use these people. Otherwise they will be turned off, and what could be an excellent feeder system to board and committee recruitment, donations, and technical assistance could easily turn sour. The following are a few points to consider when using volunteers:
- Carefully evaluate the numbers and the job descriptions before you recruit the volunteers to make sure you are clear about exactly what you want them to do.
- Churches are excellent recruiting grounds for volunteers. The churches and faith-based institutions are great because they are set up to provide a free service to the community. In addition, if you recruit senior citizens through their churches you could jumpstart a wills/bequest and planned giving program with them.
- Corporations are excellent recruiting grounds for volunteers because many corporations are looking for ways to involve their employees in the community. In fact, in their yearly evaluation some companies ask their employees about their involvement in the community.
- If you are going to use an extensive number of volunteers (such as more than 25) you might consider recruiting a volunteer to become the volunteer coordinator – this person would then recruit, supervise and manage this aspect of your organization. If you are using 100 or more volunteers, you might consider hiring a volunteer coordinator as a staff person.
- Volunteers are the best recruiting ground and feeder system for a donor program. We work with a small grassroots housing corporation that uses volunteers as sweat equity to renovate and build houses. These people have become the best donors and fundraisers for the organization.
- Establish high standards for the volunteers (just like you would a staff person) and don’t lower the quality bar. If they are not performing well, get rid of them (in a nice way, of course).
- Keep an eye on the best volunteers and look to them to serve on your board committees or the board of directors itself. They are the people that have demonstrated commitment and interest in your organization and these are important qualities to look for and develop.
- At least once per year have a public recognition event for your volunteers. It could be a dinner or lunch, or other situation where you publicly thank them. Present them with a plaque, clock or other memento. Make sure you mention their name on your web site.