Managing nonprofit volunteers is vital to running a cohesive organization. People are always ready to roll up their sleeves and do work. But they still need to be managed.
It’s important to make an investment in how you manage your nonprofit volunteer base, much in the way corporations view human resources. Most often, volunteers invest back in your cause, too.
“Volunteers don’t just contribute physically; they contribute monetarily as well. A Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund (report found that people who volunteered in the previous year donated ten times more money to charities than non-volunteers, and 67% of those who volunteered said that they would donate to the same nonprofits where they had served.” Doss Church
So how do you manage nonprofit volunteers? The essentials are clear through a five-prong strategy: encourage, enable, educate, equip, and empower.
The first step in recruiting and managing volunteers is encouraging them. This is more than just cheerleading. It’s about getting to know the individuals who comprise your community. If Bob is good at setting up home theatre systems, maybe he’s the guy to set up your next party around the football game traditionally held at the beginning of the year (we’d call it something shorter, but it’s trademarked).
“No matter what, give your volunteer positive feedback, and help them understand how the work they are doing helps your organization achieve its mission. That positive feedback can be the difference when they face a bug, an email they don’t want to reply to, or a frustrating conversation.” Mark Root-Wiley
Sally is organized but shy. She wants to help but doesn’t know how. Maybe Sally is just the right person to help sort the list of people who have paid for their gala tickets in the spring.
Making friends is an important part of this process. People are encouraged by working in a team and with a team. Encouraging them to have autonomous leadership and make friends is a winning strategy to engage your nonprofit volunteers.
“I’d like to learn something, do something, be in a community with like-minded people. Many reasons.” Carol Stephen
In fact, your nonprofit volunteers, can be distributed. This is especially true for digital volunteers. To encourage camaraderie and friendship, consider adding Google Hangouts or Zoom meetings. Even fun Slack games can help with team building, too.
“We have a wonderful team that makes this a priority in their busy working schedules. Every Tuesday we have trivia day—sharing something about yourself with or without photos. Sometimes the commonalities are striking—like the realization that most of us had the exact same haircut growing up (and there are plenty of good natured jokes to go around regardless).” Andrew Speer
It’s great that you’ve encouraged people to volunteer. What happens now? Say, you finally have a volunteer website developer. What is she building for you? Who knows that they’re taking on this project? Will it be a surprise when people contact them.
“If you’re going to encourage them, you also need to enable them. You need to tell everyone else… something that just says, ‘I’m official.’” Jason Tucker
Making an introduction through email, slack, or at your monthly nonprofit volunteer staff meetings is a good way to enable your website developer. She’ll need information likely from all levels of staff to volunteers — from content to passwords and more.
Once you’ve laid down a good onboarding experience for your nonprofit digital volunteer, they will need a scope of work. What is it that you want them to actually do or build? Or does the volunteer need to write that scope, too?
“It can be a challenge to figure out how to align the skills and interests of a volunteer with the vast and complicated work of a nonprofit. To make it easier, do the legwork beforehand: have a specific, scoped-out project before bringing volunteers into the organization.” Jenna Spagnolo
Do you volunteers have the skills they need? It’s great to have enthusiasm. But having a phone isn’t enough. Your digital volunteers need to understand how to properly use the technology for your cause.
Train in protocols, voice, and technology. The Red Cross accepts “Digital Heroes” and trains their volunteers.
The Fundraising Authority has a great article about why you need to train your nonprofit volunteers. That said, even if they are skilled workers, they will need to understand how your nonprofit functions.
“No matter the type or ability of your volunteers, they all need training and support from your non-profit organization. Even if the volunteer in question is already well versed in how to do the job you are assigning them, they will need to spend some time learning the ropes of this charity, getting to know the organization’s mission, vision, and plans, and educating themselves about the work that you do.” Joe Garecht
Equip your nonprofit volunteers with the skills and tools they need to support your cause. Your organization becomes their organization when they have the ability to make a difference.
There are many free or reduced-fee tools for registered 501(c)(3) organizations. This post by Jason Tucker, an IT professional in the nonprofit space, gives many resources. Of course we also recommend that your nonprofit use WordPress (resources here ) for your web property and a free online tool for collecting online donations (wink). But your volunteers may need more than just a Canva account or Google For Work access.
Digital volunteers may need access to computers or phones. A desire to help and available time are valuable; invest in this resource. Consider adding one or two $200 Chromebooks to your organization’s assets. This will equip (and empower) your new digital staff.
Think about the people who volunteer — maybe they don’t have the finances to give, but they have time. Make sure that they can help you.
Volunteers who have autonomy are more productive and happier. So, how can you empower them? Empowering starts with trust. And trust begins with communication.
How can you maintain a regular communication channel with your volunteers? There are many digital tools available like Slack for messaging, Trello for project management, Google Hangouts for video, Facebook Groups for the whole team, and of course, email.
“Truly collaborating with and supporting your volunteer will give you a much higher chance of getting a beautiful new website with a low monetary price tag.” Mark Root-Wiley
What you have to decide as an organization is if there is a point person that develops and maintains those nonprofit volunteer relationships or if each department will mentor their own volunteer base. Once you do that, find ways to make it fun and engaging.
How is your volunteer program built?
“Build a program to attract and manage volunteers and ensure there’s enough autonomy for them to do stuff without bureaucracy.” Sunil Malhotra
Learning from You!
What are your tricks and tips for managing nonprofit volunteers? Creating an engaged volunteer base for your nonprofit is key. We want learn from you, too. Leave your feedback in the comments. Let’s get the conversation going.
You can watch the episode of WPblab on this subject here.