The Power of Volunteers – Ambassadors for Your Cause

shutterstock_784304782Volunteers are valuable assets for any nonprofit organization. They help out in a pinch, they can spread the word about your mission, and they can tackle tasks that you may not have the manpower to complete alone. However, as many can attest, recruiting volunteers, using them to their full potential, and encouraging them to be involved with your cause, can be challenging.

That’s why it’s important for your nonprofit organization to have a clear volunteer management plan in place, one that focuses not only on recruiting volunteers but one that also emphasizes how to keep them engaged and how to apply their strengths effectively.

5 Tips for Forming a Better Mutual Volunteer Relationship

Your management plan should include a clear roadmap to recruit, utilize and retain volunteers. Here are five key considerations that you should include:

1. Get to Know Your Volunteers

Volunteers choose to donate their time and expertise for a variety of reasons. Some identify with your mission because it has impacted them and they want to give back. Others volunteer for a sense of fulfillment and others volunteer to gain work experience. Regardless of the purpose behind their involvement, it is important to provide the opportunity to volunteers.

Use an online form to ask potential volunteers why they chose your organization, what skills they want to contribute, how many hours they want to commit and the type of volunteer work they would like to perform. Having this information helps you place them in a role that appeals to them and maximizes their potential.

Similarly, you can post a list of the type of volunteer jobs your organization is offering. Be specific and keep your volunteer page updated. If you are only recruiting carpenters, post that. As your needs change, update your website.

2. Use Volunteering Effectively

Once you have determined what your volunteers’ strengths are, you can assign tasks that maximize their skill set. This takes planning. A surefire way to turn a volunteer off is having them come into your office for a two-hour shift, only to have them find that there’s really nothing specific for them to do. Or worse, you ask a volunteer to file one month’s worth of documents, when they clearly told you they were interested in being the lead planner for your next fundraising event.

3. Solicit Feedback

Volunteers can provide objective feedback on your programs, events, campaigns, and even office processes. This is beneficial to both parties. It tells volunteers you value their opinion and when people feel valued they tend to be more committed. For your organization, their opinion gives you insight that salaried staff may not have, or want to report.

And now thanks to technology, it’s never been easier to survey volunteers. Create an online survey with well-thought-out questions and offer multiple-choice-type answers. Making it fast and simple is key to getting responses. Include a space for written responses for those that want to give more detailed feedback.

The most important key to soliciting feedback, however, is listening to the feedback generated. If volunteers take the time to give their opinion, acknowledge it and explain how their suggestion will be used or why it won’t be used.

4. Create a Sense of Camaraderie

Give volunteers the option of interacting with other volunteers within your organization. Volunteers who establish connections within the organization are more likely to stay with your organization for a longer period of time.

You can inexpensively set up online forums for your volunteers to connect and share information or host volunteer events either at your office or at a local gathering place.

5. Acknowledge Volunteers’ Contributions

Most nonprofits acknowledge their volunteers in some form, but the key is to get creative and put some effort into that acknowledgement. For example, you can acknowledge outstanding contributions by posting profiles of volunteers on your website highlighting their achievements. These achievements can be showcased even further by organizing a volunteer awards night and inviting the media to report on local volunteers who have made a difference in their community.

Volunteers also want to know they are making a difference. Send out regular newsletters via email updating them on how their efforts are helping the organization advance its cause.

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