Want a Winning Volunteer Program? It’s Time to Bring in Your 12th Man

Who’s the “12th man” at your organization?

For those less familiar with football jargon, I’ll explain. The 12th man is a term coined by the American Football League that means the fans in your stadium. While there are only 11 players on the field at a time, the “12th man” undoubtedly supports their teams on the path to victory. The 12th man IS the home-field advantage.

What would a team be without its 12th man? Or your organization without its supporters?

This is a question all too familiar to organizations relying heavily on volunteer support  to carryout their missions. As you know, it can be a lot harder to convince someone to give up their Saturday morning than it is to ask for money or spare household items, but if not properly utilized, things can go horribly wrong. Unlike that overly intoxicated sports fan that spills their beer and curses in front of small children – you’ll want to make sure your 12th man is representative of your entire organization and its standards.

Let’s gets down to how you develop a winning volunteer program:

Recruit the best team players.

The Seattle Humane Society has the right idea with this principle. They require anyone interested in volunteering to fill out an application…and it’s not short. Seeing who puts the time and effort into filling out a lengthy application can help you weed out those who may not take the opportunity as seriously.

The application also asks thoughtful questions which helps give them an idea of what someone’s intentions may be. If someone says “I want to volunteer at your animal shelter because I like dogs” versus “I want to volunteer at your animal shelter because I want to learn more about the organization’s specific needs and engage my community in efforts to saving more animals’ lives.” I bet the second candidate would be selected.

There must be something in the water in Seattle, because it sounds like they’re Superbowl Championing their field of work.

Whip your volunteers into tiptop shape.

Your volunteers are already winning half the battle. They’ve expressed an interest in helping, which indicates some level of passion for your cause, but that doesn’t mean they’ll automatically know what to do next. This is where you as an experienced staff member come into play.

Coach the volunteer not only on what you want done, but how you want it done.

This ensures that the job is complete and done correctly. Don’t underestimate where people may need a little guidance. If you tell a 17 year old to mop the floor but they use a vacuum, whose fault is that?  Be specific and more importantly, be encouraging. It’ll go a long way to be patient rather than sending a volunteer home scared and deterring their friends from joining your cause.

You’ll also want to set the correct expectations so that volunteers know what acceptable behavior is and what is not. Creating a volunteer manual outlining the guidelines will keep everyone’s game face on.

Make a strategic game plan.

If you already have a program in place, step back to evaluate what is working and what is not. Expand on your wins and learn from your losses.

Think about this question – what can you accomplish with 100 of your best volunteers?

Based on your answers, set goals for what you want to get done. Make sure they’re challenging but realistic. Building steam off of several little wins will not only fuel your mission, but it will also build morale for employees and staff, helping everyone look forward to the work they do.

Most importantly, THANK your volunteers. Acknowledge that you couldn’t get half as much done without them. Many athletes attribute their success to their fans, and you should do the same. Go team!