Why And How to Manage Your Volunteer Program Professionally
Volunteers are every nonprofit’s dream. They believe in your organization and what it stands for, they give 100% and of course, they’re doing it for free. All this makes their contribution invaluable, but just like with employees, they need to be managed professionally. Although it might seem strange, because they participate freely and out of their own time, organizations should recruit, delegate, evaluate and show appreciation like they would with any employee.
So let’s take it step by step and look at why and how to manage your volunteer program professionally:
1. Volunteer Recruiting
Like with any job, is it important to recruit the right people. Your project has a goal and you have a clear strategy as to how you’ll reach that goal. Develop a list of all volunteer jobs needed for the project after which you should decide on the characteristics you want your volunteers to have. Obviously there are projects for which the only requirement is desire and willingness to help. But for some projects you need to take into account physical and time demands as well as other professional qualifications.
Use volunteer recruitment forms to reach the right people for your project. It’s easy to create and share on social media. Find out everything you need, such as contact details, previous volunteering experience and, if relevant, professional qualifications.
2. Volunteer Delegation
Delegation is one of the most important aspects in managing organizations or programs. Effective delegation should be based on clearly outlined qualifications and responsibilities drawn from the recruitment phase. By delegating you empower volunteers and make them feel needed and important. Furthermore it makes everyone in the group involved in activities, motivating them to reach their goals and improving their experience as a whole.
By now, you should have all the necessary information from the recruitment forms. To make volunteers feel their contribution is even more worthwhile, invite them to take part in the job implementation process where you can set out a plan to tackle an issue.
From that point on, these are the steps you need to take care of in order to delegate efficiently:
- Define responsibilities clearly. Describe freedoms and limitations. This allows for consistency.
- When delegating, delegate complete segments rather than bits and pieces.
- Maximize strengths by choosing the right people for the appropriate task. Determine strengths and weaknesses of volunteers and staff and delegate accordingly.
- Provide adequate feedback. Be honest and accurate in assessment of how they are doing. Emphasize what went wrong, not who did it.
- Set goals and performance standards together.
- Provide support through sharing knowledge, information, and plans with them.
- Give those with responsibility for implementing a program a voice in the decision-making. Freely consult with those involved.
- Commend and encourage. Reward accomplishment.
- Let go! Fully delegate and allow for personal success or failure. Delegation also involves the transfer of authority.
- “Thank you” after the job is done should acknowledge the contribution. Remember: Delegation does not eliminate work, it changes it.
3. Volunteer Evaluation
It seems strange to evaluate volunteers because they participate freely. Apart from that, there is also a tendency to interact with volunteers more casually than you would with paid staff. But they are seen as part of your organization, therefore becoming brand ambassadors. Although they are not celebrities, by associating themselves with the organization, they embody its values and ethics and their actions can influence the brand’s image. And like with any brand ambassadors, you want to evaluate their performance and if be the case improve or reward their effort. If you do this you are seen as being a serious program, and volunteers will surely apply themselves harder to the job. Furthermore, you make sure you utilise your resources and not draining them.
Apart from evaluating volunteers, you should evaluate the entire volunteer program. Evaluating and measuring volunteer programs can have long time benefits for your organization.
By quantifying volunteer impact you could:
- Gain government or stakeholder support
- Enable policymakers to make informed decisions
- Encourage citizens to volunteer by demonstrating social and personal benefits
- Educate the media and the public, private and nonprofit sector about volunteering
- Improve your volunteering program and volunteer experience as a whole
You can do this with online evaluation forms. This doesn’t mean that you will put in more effort into evaluating your staff, because you already have a way of evaluating employees, it’s just applying that to your volunteers, so really all you’re doing is improving. Evaluation should look at whether the goals of the volunteer position and program have been met. It should also look at the volunteer’s relationship with management, other staff, suppliers and community. It is important that this section includes a feedback form for the volunteer to fill. How often evaluation takes place is up to management and the duration of the volunteer program.
4. Volunteer Appreciation
Volunteers are an essential resource for most nonprofits. In a society that teaches you that “time is money”, they’re giving it for free. Their selfless commitment and efforts need to be acknowledged every year. If you show your appreciation they’ll feel valued and come in the next day or at your next project with a bigger smile on their face. Or even better, maybe they’ll bring a friend who was impressed by your work or a friend who wanted to volunteer but didn’t know where to start.
By making a page on your website dedicated to their efforts, by telling them often how critical is their contribution, by bragging how amazing you volunteers are, by taking time to hear their thoughts, by saying “thank you” often and many more ways. This is a good place to start looking for ways in which to show your recognition.
Doing all of this not only improves the outcome and experience of your programs, it will also give your volunteers more relevant experience in their domain so they can be better at their job or better people in general.
We’d love to hear how you manage your volunteer programs professionally and benefits did you gain from them.