by Marie Palacios

Coordinating Volunteers

Last month Mandy highlighted the inconsistencies in the volunteer process and asked several pointed questions about why nonprofits let quality volunteers slip through the cracks.

This month, I wanted to tackle this topic from the nonprofit staff point of view. She is right. Money and volunteers tend to be the biggest challenges we face. So why is it so difficult to capture the volunteers we need?

I will be honest.  Managing the volunteer process is both the  frustrating and rewarding task at hand. Any time we sound the call for volunteers we run the risk of getting inundated with offers to help out or we are met with the resounding SILENCE.de7d60dc-61e1-4245-8a74-d3eb6e78ffc6

Either way, staff feels like they will end up doing the work at the end of the day. While nonprofit leaders agree that volunteers are KEY, here are the realities:

  1. We don’t just need warm bodies, we need volunteers with specific skill sets. Many times we get offers from people who do not have the personality or skills sets we need and it is time consuming to “find a place for them”. It can be easier to dismiss and offer than actively look for ways to engage a new volunteer.
  2. We tend to be reactive, not proactive…so when a volunteer arrives to help we often do not have an organized and effective way to use them.
  3. Volunteers require time and grooming. Nonprofit staff members already wear ten million hats and often adopt the “I would rather do it myself on my own time than have to work around someone else’s schedule.”
  4. Training someone is an investment. If there is no volunteer training and retention process is process, staff members struggle to give the time and care volunteers need to feel engaged and appreciated.
  5. We are so busy putting out fires, we often fail to prioritize the very important task of showing appreciation for our volunteers. People who do not feel appreciated for donating their time and energy will quickly find somewhere else to spend it. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the volunteer help…we just need help to demonstrate it!

At the end of the day, if you completed a poll of nonprofit directors and program coordinators we would all agree that volunteers are critical to the long-term success and sustainability of the organization.
We would also have to be honest and share that “Volunteer Coordination” is a program in and of itself.

A staff-member could very easily dedicate 20-30 hours each week to recruiting, screening, training, engaging, and thanking volunteers. It comes down to man-power. In essence, the solution is also the problem. Organizations need volunteers to support programs.

However, volunteers don’t manage themselves and many nonprofits don’t have the financial resources or manpower to hire a volunteer coordinator. In most cases, staff members share the responsibility of engaging volunteers.

The end result?

Multiple staff members utilize volunteers for their specific programs but there is no comprehensive system for ensuring the quality and longevity of volunteers.

As an Executive Director, I am the first to say how much we appreciate our volunteers. However, I am also the first to recognize how often we fail to treat “Volunteer Programming” as a legitimate program. We fail to give this “program” the same attention we dedicate to our education and community outreach initiatives.

Mandy’s blog on the obstacles are insightful and though provoking. It also serves as a reminder that quality volunteers really are ready and willing to serve. As nonprofit leaders, we need to do a better job of outlining areas of service, volunteer hours, and coordinate the necessary supervision.

Check out our next several weekly blogs to find more resources and tools focused on volunteering and keep growing for good!