How valuable are volunteers? The quantifiable answer is approximately $22.55 per hour *, according to research. But that number doesn’t account for the true value volunteers bring to the table, such as enthusiasm, creativity and dedication. Given nonprofit organizations are faced with many responsibilities including implementing programs, managing day-to-day-operations, and above all, achieving their mission, volunteers can play an instrumental role helping an organization reach its goals.
Prospective volunteers can pick and choose among numerous charitable organizations. If you want to attract and retain talented volunteers, give them as many reasons as possible to choose yours.
Treat Your Volunteers as Part of Your Team
Volunteers and paid employees are alike in more ways than they are different. Be sure that those who offer their time and talents free of charge are not treated as “just” volunteers. Make them feel like they’re part of the team right away by introducing them to staff members, executives and board members. Consider creating written job descriptions outlining volunteer position expectations and duties, just as you do for employees. You might even want to create job titles. Meet with volunteers frequently to get their feedback, and encourage them to attend staff meetings (when appropriate).
Volunteers coming from the for-profit world often need time to transition to the nonprofit model. Encouraging their feedback during their first few weeks will provide you with valuable ideas and insight.
Match Volunteer Interests with Tasks & Provide Training
Your volunteers probably spend less time working than your paid staff does. To keep them up to speed and engaged, you’ll want to provide adequate oversight and supervision, especially as they get started in their new volunteer role. Not all volunteers will be happy doing everything you ask. It is always a recipe for success to match a volunteer’s skills and interests with the tasks assigned to them. And try to rotate mundane or uninteresting tasks among your volunteers. Be sure you have the tools and resources volunteers need to do their jobs.
Volunteers who have a meaningful and satisfying experience will be more committed and easier to retain. But keeping them engaged and empowered can be a challenge. High volunteer turnover can be as disruptive as high staff turnover. If retaining volunteers is a problem, you may need to do some rearranging so you can better accommodate volunteers.
Professionals are used to being involved at high levels. To ensure you fully use the skills and talents of your volunteers, consider engaging them in your organization’s decision making processes and meetings. This will allow volunteers to provide valuable input that will truly benefit your organization.
Provide Rewards & Recognition
Reward valued volunteers by publicly recognizing their commitment and dedication to your organization. Consider creating a “volunteer of the month” program or present certificates of appreciation. If you publish a print or electronic newsletter, profile one or two volunteers each issue or dedicate an entire issue to your volunteers each year. If you have the resources, consider organizing a volunteer appreciation ceremony or event.
Provide Technology Tools
These days, volunteers will expect you to have at least the basics when it comes to technology tools and resources available for their use. If you’ve had to put technology enhancements on the back burner or your capabilities are lagging due to a lack of technology expertise, look for volunteers who have the necessary skills to overcome existing voids in your operation and who will help bring your organization up to speed.
Use the Talent & Expertise of Baby Boomers
Their careers are behind them and they are looking for ways to give back to the community through volunteering their free time. As large numbers of the Baby Boomer generation (those born from 1946 to 1964) reach retirement age, many are looking for opportunities and your organization can benefit from these highly talented volunteers.
It is important to be mindful of some fundamental differences between previous generations of retirees and Baby Boomers. Baby Boomers don’t like to think of themselves as getting older. It’s generally best to stay away from terms like “seniors” in your recruitment materials.
Members of this generation are driven to succeed. But they also want credit for what they accomplish.Instead of asking people to “volunteer,” consider asking them to “share their skills.” Finally, many Baby Boomers are comfortable with social networks, blogs and other online communities, so plan to expand your volunteer search by reaching out over the Internet.
* Estimated value of volunteer time for 2013, Independent Sector