By MEL AND PEARL SHAW
How can you increase the time, money and expertise available to your nonprofit? Some of us want to increase the hours in our days from 24 to 30, others believe “cloning” is an alternative. We understand the lament,“not enough hours in the day,” and so we offer a proven solution: Elevate your volunteer engagement program. Here are three things to consider.
Leadership. Your volunteer engagement program should be led by an individual who is as talented and experienced as your chief fundraiser. This is not a position for an entry level employee who is new to your organization. When your volunteer engagement program is successful, it can result in meaningful investments of time, talent and expertise.
Volunteers can transform programs, open new offices, redesign (or create) your evaluation program, update budgeting and bookkeeping methods, provide legal strategy and counsel, and more. But this doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without consistent attention. The value and impact of volunteers depends on the quality of your preparation.
Preparation. Before engaging volunteers, identify areas where volunteers can make a difference. Volunteers make a great impact on fundraising activities such as special events, phone-a-thons, and direct mail, but there are other ways they can transform an organization. Review your strategic plan to identify the agreed upon areas of growth. Reflect on conversations about the vision for your organization. What is holding you back? Identify the skills, experience and relationships needed to implement your plans, but are currently missing. Carefully consider who would be ideal volunteers to complement your staff and board.
Create short “job descriptions”that outline the goals your organization is seeking to reach and the ways in which each volunteer could help you reach that goal. Be prepared to use volunteer management software to track skills and engagement; this will become part of the infrastructure that supports your volunteers. A volunteer orientation program, assessment process, evaluations, policies, procedures, and a benefits and public promotion program are other aspects of the infrastructure you should put in place.
Cultivation and retention. How you prepare to engage volunteers will influence how well you cultivate and retain them. Like fundraising, volunteer recruitment is 90 percent preparation and 10 percent solicitation. Once you have identified the right people with the right skills to help you with a specific, well-defined project you can then begin the process of introducing them to the work of your nonprofit, and asking for their help. Meet in person with each volunteer and share the vision and goals of your nonprofit, and the specific project you would like assistance with.
Offer each volunteer the opportunity to “own” the project and take the lead. This is different from asking someone to complete a task and report back to you for approval. The person responsible for volunteer engagement should be dedicated to following up with each volunteer and facilitating the resources she needs to help your organization be successful.
Taking the time to build a volunteer engagement program can yield impressive results.