“The work we do doesn’t really lend itself to volunteers.”
“We have volunteers, but we don’t know what to do with them.”
“Volunteers are too much work.”
These statements may come across as reasons not to utilize volunteers, but in reality, they are simply excuses. In this article, we will touch upon not only reasons why nonprofits should (pretty much) always use volunteers, how to even (possibly) profit from them, how to attract volunteers and also how to keep them.
Why Should We Use Volunteers?
No matter the mission of a nonprofit organization, there is almost always a reason to have volunteers. Briefly speaking, volunteers allow your staff to focus on other activities, volunteers come together and form a community, and volunteers bring more positive attention to your organization.
We couldn’t possibly list every task a volunteer could perform for a nonprofit organization, but if you recruit someone, ask what they like to do and what they’re good at. Chances are there will be something in that list that your staff either doesn’t have time or even the training to do. This is how you find skilled volunteers interested in fulfilling your mission.
This is an easier sell, and most nonprofit organizations that host events and location-based activities thrive with hoards of volunteers. For instance, have you ever:
Attended a 5K-charity run? Registration and packet pick up is nearly always staffed by volunteers who have been trained and informed on how to properly answer questions about the run and to register participants.
Been to a food pantry? These shelves are stocked hour after hour by volunteer groups and individuals, without whom the shelves would be barren.
Something even as mundane and tedious as data entry and filing is a huge task that paid staff sometimes just don’t have the time to do. There are certainly people seeking volunteer positions that don’t require physical activity (due to many reasons), and this a great activity to have volunteers for.
Sure, it takes a little bit of training and some oversight, but think of the time paid staff will save, allowing them to focus their energies on much more intensive and productive tasks.
How to Potentially Earn Funds from Volunteers
This is a bonus section, and an area of funding that many nonprofit organizations simply don’t realize exists.
Have you ever heard of Dollar for Doer programs? These are monetary grants offered by countless corporations worldwide to eligible nonprofit organizations with which their employees volunteer. Volunteer grants range in size, depending on the corporation, but are an easy source of untapped funding.
Volunteer grants generally have two structures:
Corporations have a set per hour rate (for example: $10 per volunteer hour, up to 100 hours per year.)
Corporations have a threshold – once an employee volunteers 10 hours, the company will provide a $250 grant.
The key is to check with your volunteers to see if their employers offer volunteer grants. You should also consider how your organization can make the submission process easier for your volunteers by providing them with direct access to forms, guidelines and instructions! And in case you’re wondering, there are online matching and volunteer grant services which will allow your supporters to view this kind of information in an easy-to-digest format.
Want to learn more about Dollar for Doer programs? Check out these ten companies that provide volunteer grants worth over $15 per hour.
OK, I’m Convinced, but How Do I Find Volunteers?
There are droves of websites that offer the opportunity to find volunteers to perfectly match the task you require help with. Just a few include:
Causecast (when looking to post volunteer opportunities for corporations)
There are also much more local ways to advertise for volunteers:
Social media is a massive resource available for a nonprofit organization to reach out to supporters. Many social media platforms now offer the opportunity to insert keywords into postings, and using the keyword “volunteer” could drive even people who don’t follow your organization to your website.
Something as simple as putting up flyers around town (at local schools, shopping centers, parks with bulletin boards, etc.).
Talking with volunteer coordinators at local corporations and educational institutions. They are always looking for new and unique volunteer opportunities to extend to their employees and students.
I’ve Got Volunteers, but I Don’t Know How to Keep Them.
For many nonprofit organizations, getting volunteers isn’t the problem—keeping them is.
The number one rule for volunteer management and retention is to make sure they know that the work they are doing is of value to you. Make them feel empowered. Say thank you—often. Regardless of the size or purpose of the task, a volunteer is taking upon an activity that allows your staff to be productive in other ways.
Ask volunteers what they enjoy doing. What was their motive for joining your organization initially? What are their skills and interests? This allows you to get a better feel for what kind of task to assign them, and reassures you that volunteers are doing something they like to do and that they’re good at. Volunteers like to not only be needed, but also do tasks that they feel confident performing.
Make volunteering easy for your recruits. Put links up on your website, respond to inquiries on social media, create an email address solely for volunteers, etc. Just make it so that it’s easy to identify where someone needs to go to ask about volunteer opportunities.
Make volunteering convenient for your recruits as well by asking them when they are available for such opportunities. Sometimes people can only volunteer a few hours per week, and only in the evening. Try to find tasks that anyone can perform at various times of the day.
And, for emphasis, we’ll repeat the number one rule: make sure you’re thanking your volunteers often! This can be done in person, via a handwritten note from staff (or if possible, from upper management), through a volunteer appreciation party, or even with thank you knick-knacks. You remember all of those drawstring bags you ordered to sell at the healthcare convention? Send one to a volunteer—anything to show them you’re thankful for the work they do.
About the Author:
Adam Weinger is President of Double the Donation, a company which provides online tools to nonprofits to help them raise money from employee matching gift and volunteer grants. Get in touch with Adam by email, LinkedIn, or Twitter.