Volunteers are an incredibly valuable resource for any organisation. For those of us who have managed volunteers, we know the challenges we can face to attract, maintain, and retain them. It’s one thing to get someone to do something for a salary, but it is an entirely different experience to inspire people to do something on their own steam.
Beyond the skills and dedication volunteers bring, it is often overlooked that your volunteering programme can validate your organisation’s mission. Someone who is prepared to give up their time to help shows clearly there is something about your cause that inspires, motivates, and captivates. That is a valuable accolade to inspire donors and non-donors alike!
It is critical to create a clear and effective role description that is designed for success. We know from research that there are two types of volunteers: those that give their time for altruistic reasons, and those that give their time for self-development reasons. The role description and volunteer opportunities need to be designed to capture the needs of both groups clearly. One aspect must demonstrate the benefit in terms of human impact, and the other in terms of professional skills gained.
Investing time and resources in volunteers from the outset saves time and resources down the line. Dedicated training for your volunteers as they begin their roles will demonstrate that you value their time as well as empower them to dive into their new roles. In addition, providing useful resources such as toolkits and guides, as well as a named contact for any questions, will help them feel supported and confident to carry out their volunteer role. Together, training and support will ensure they stay longer and can be more successful.
Effective tracking is vital for good volunteer management. Organisations need to understand the volunteer journey, which means you need to capture how many volunteer roles are offered, the number of applications and “good fits,” what training was administered, and in how many roles a volunteer has engaged. In addition, asking volunteers their rationale for joining or for scaling back their involvement can reveal a great deal about their experience and help you improve the programme’s design and delivery.
You want to measure the impact of volunteering for your organisation. This can include how many hours have been committed by volunteers, what type of activities were achieved with their help, and, even more importantly, what was made possible only through their help. By measuring impact, you will be in a position to clearly communicate the value of volunteering to volunteers, your organisation, and the community alike.
Proper volunteer stewardship is the only way to keep volunteers long term, just as it is with donors! Therefore, setting up a volunteer tracking system and measuring impact also allows you to know how long each volunteer has helped your cause and the difference they have made. This will allow you to create a personalised stewardship plan to thank each volunteer in a timely and meaningful way.
Recruiting and retaining senior volunteers, such as trustees, ought to be treated no differently than when recruiting and retaining other volunteer roles. However, many organisations shy away from elucidating clear expectations when offered time by a senior individual. This is a mistake. It will be much harder to raise involvement if they joined without clear expectations from the start. So from the outset, clearly communicate expectations. Clarity will also ensure they enjoy their experience more!