8 Dos and Don’ts for Working with Volunteers

Nonprofit Management

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Donors get a lot of attention in the nonprofit world. We talk about how to find donors, how to keep donors, how to show appreciation to donors, and how to appeal to donors’ hearts and minds. The attention given to donors sometimes overshadows the attention given to volunteers, though, and that’s a real shame. Building and maintaining relationships with volunteers is just as important! Volunteers make the nonprofit world go round — here are some do’s and don’ts to finding and working with them.

DO work to keep your volunteers engaged.

And by “engaged,” we mean engaged beyond their volunteer hours. Keep them engaged on other fronts; keep them up-to-date on how they’re making a difference in your organization, ask for (and listen to!) their opinions and ideas, and keep in touch with them outside of your facilities. The more you engage with your volunteers, the stronger their emotional bond to your organization will become.

DON’T waste their time.

People volunteer because they want to make a difference in the world. If they don’t feel like they’re making a difference, they won’t continue to donate their time and energy. Give volunteers a sense of purpose while they’re working with you — set expectations, define goals, and make sure they have the tools and guidance they need to make the most of their time. If you want to keep your volunteers, don’t make them feel like they’re wasting their time.

DO be flexible.

This is important for everyone, but is especially important to younger volunteers. Be aware that many of your volunteers are working with your organization in addition to juggling careers, school, families, or other obligations. Offering flexibility is an important way to make sure your volunteers are able to work for you, especially if they’re students or are in the work force.

DON’T use volunteers for work that needs to stay consistent.

It’s best to avoid using volunteers for tasks that have to be consistently maintained. Jobs like record-keeping, administrative duties, and coordinating things like donor relations or events are best suited to full-time, paid staff. By all means, let full-time staff use volunteer help if they can use it! But keep your operations consistent by having designated, paid staff oversee those areas. If you must use a volunteer in those areas, try to use a volunteer who works with you on a regular basis for long periods of time. Consistency is key!

DO train your volunteers.

Even though volunteers should probably not be used to run your day-to-day operations, they do still need to be trained to fill their assigned roles. Whether they’re washing dogs, writing thank-you notes, or helping with an event, making sure your volunteers know what to do is critical. Not only does it make them feel like their time is being used well (remember how important that is?), it’ll also ensure work gets done quickly and efficiently.

DON’T forget to show some love.

Everyone talks about donor retention methods and ways to make donors feel appreciated. Don’t forget to appreciate your volunteers, too! Even if they don’t donate financially, volunteers are donating their time — and that’s just as important. Handwritten thank-you notes, appreciation events, and other donor retention strategies can (and should) be applied to volunteers, too.

DO make sure your volunteers are legal.

Lines between paid staff and volunteers are often blurry, and nonprofits need to be sure they’re operating within legal guidelines. Sometimes volunteering can be very straightforward, but it can quickly get complex in other situation. Paid hospice staff members, for example, are unable to volunteer with their organization in many capacities, and hospice organizations can be penalized if the guidelines aren’t followed. Check Idealist’s guidelines for volunteers to make sure you’re operating legally!

DON’T overlook volunteers’ motives.

The decision to volunteer, just like the decision to donate financially, is an emotional decision. Volunteers are motivated by different things, and nonprofits can build powerful connections with them by tapping into their motives to get involved. Combine volunteers’ talents and interests with a role that fits their motives for volunteering, and you’re set to build a meaningful relationship that will last for years.

While financial donors get lots of love in the nonprofit industry, it’s important to remember that volunteers are donors, too. People who donate little bits of their lives to charities are treasures! Finding great volunteers is a lot of work and, when great volunteers are found, they should be deeply appreciated. If you need help finding amazing volunteers for your nonprofit, check out this blog article!

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