Why It’s Hard to be a Volunteer (And Even Harder for You to Find Them)

As nonprofits we’re often focused on the difficulties we face on our end—logistics, recruiting, finding jobs suited for each volunteer’s unique set of skills, etc. But we tend to overlook the difficulties volunteers face when trying to get involved with a NPO. In understanding what aspects of volunteerism frustrate them the most, perhaps you’ll have better luck at finding them.

Last week, VolunteerMatch touched on the difficulties of being a volunteer in today’s world. They hinted at a couple problems, so we put together some solutions to common issues nonprofits face with volunteer management.

Problem 1: Lack of Information

Google has replaced humans.

Whereas in past years people interested in volunteering with your organization would simply call and talk to someone, now everything must be available on your website. You must not only give the basics, your web gurus must also anticipate questions potential volunteers will have and provide answers.

It’s sort of like if you’re searching for something on eBay, and you have a very specific item in mind (dimensions, color, size, etc.). If the seller doesn’t list the details, you’ll immediately click the back button and search for someone with a more thorough description.

The lesson here is to get specific. Length of volunteer shifts, available days, if the work is kid-friendly or not, any training requirements, and much more should be available for interested parties to look into.

Problem 2: People Value Variety—NPOs Don’t

For previous generations, job security was synonymous to longevity. Now, choosing a new position every couple of years to mix things up is considered a desirable option for many millennials.

Meaning that while it’s ideal to have volunteers committed for years and years, you shouldn’t bank on running that kind of program.

Make your volunteer program’s commitment length minimal—perhaps week-to-week is too flimsy to count on, but month-to-month is doable. The more flexible you are, the more inviting you become to returning volunteers. And even if you don’t have many returning members, making your volunteer program accessible (no lengthy registrations, no pre-registration, etc.) makes it more appealing to people with busy schedules who decide to volunteer last minute. We know it sounds like more stress for you, but if it means more volunteers it may be worth it.

Problem 3: They Feel Unimportant

We realize that your volunteers aren’t going to come in and take over the board meetings. There will be some undesirable jobs (stuffing mailers, cleaning up after events, etc.) but the important thing is to make them understand how key accomplishing these tasks are.

If you make these jobs important, they’ll feel it. If you make them seem like sluff jobs you’re handing out to keep them busy, they won’t be coming back. Focus on their experience as a whole, rather than individual tasks assigned.

What strategies does your NPO use for its volunteer program?


Kathryn Pauley

Kathryn is a regular contributor to the Nonprofit Hub. Soon to be college graduate, she enjoys helping nonprofits understand better how to reach the millennial demographic—cause we are living in a millennial world, and Kathryn's a millennial girl. With experience leading the largest student-run charity event on her campus, she looks forward to bringing her unique perspective to the Hub team every day.

July 16, 2014

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