How to Treat Volunteers as an Extension of Your Staff

Volunteers are a vital part of your nonprofit organization. They’re the ones doing the grunt work and producing tangible change for the cause you’re working to better. Once you’ve recruited a solid group of volunteers and have boots on the ground to make things happen, you need to develop relationships with them in order to treat them as an extension of your staff. We’ve got a couple of tips on how to manage your volunteers in hopes of retaining them for the future.

Implement a training program

If your nonprofit relies heavily on volunteerism, creating a training program is essential. This is especially true if you’re expecting to continuously have large groups of volunteers. Make sure that you allot time and energy to coach your volunteers on specific tasks they will be doing. When they get it right the first time around, you won’t have to worry about going back and fixing any mistakes yourself later on.

Avoid volunteer burnout

A nonprofit’s limited budget sometimes means limited resources, a limited staff and a whole lot of the workload falling on the same peoples’ shoulders. Burned out employees and volunteers aren’t productive, and they transfer their stress into their actions at work. Here are some ways to manage and prevent burnout:

1. Schedule regular check-ins with your volunteers to see where they’re at in terms of progress. Make sure to ask them about their experiences working for your organization and things they might be worried about.

2. Don’t micromanage. You hired volunteers because you can’t do everything yourself, so let go and let them do their work.

3. Give your volunteers appropriate breaks and coordinate their schedule around yours to see how you can work together.

Learn how to say no

Don’t ever feel like you have to accept a volunteer just because they’re willing to volunteer, especially if you don’t have anything for them to do. You want a volunteer that fits your culture and wants to help, so make sure they’re there for a reason.

When saying no to volunteers, it’s important to handle the situation delicately. You don’t want to burn any bridges with volunteers you want to keep in your network. Even if you’ve already given them options, touch base with them regularly just in case.


  • Julie Cooper

    Great piece. All three tips are valid and helpful, and I’d like to add one more. As a mega volunteer myself (and one who manages other volunteers), I have one key way to treat volunteers as an extension of your staff. Volunteers want to feel like they are in an ‘exclusive club’ within your organization. They want to be in the inner circle of knowing what’s new with the organization and what successes have occurred due to theirs and their peers’ volunteerism. Of course they want training and they don’t want to be micromanaged, but most of all they want to be appreciated and feel like they belong.

    • Hana Muslic

      Thanks for sharing that extra tip, Julie! Agreed—part of retaining volunteers is reminding them of how important the work they’re doing is.