March 3, 2017

Working With Volunteers

Volunteers are often able to pitch in and lend extra support to an organization, but effective volunteer management requires careful planning and proper support. Organizations that rely heavily on volunteers to deliver services often have one or more dedicated staff members managing them, providing volunteer training and orientation programs.

Before engaging volunteers, it is helpful to develop job descriptions and explicitly spell out their responsibilities and your expectations. Some organizations go as far as having volunteers sign a letter of agreement, and provide job review and feedback. All of those steps will allow the organization to provide high-impact and meaningful volunteer opportunities. Don’t forget to develop a proper recognition program for your volunteers as well.

In the ideal scenario, volunteers can offer time and expertize in a way that contributes significantly to the organization’s bottom line. The Independent Sector, a leadership network of nonprofits, foundations, and corporations, has estimated the value of a volunteer hour at $23.56 for 2015 (the most recent year available at the writing of this chapter). That number is comprised of a general salary combined with payroll taxes and fringe benefits that the organization might otherwise have had to allocate to a paid staff member. For organizations like Doctors Without Borders, the donated skilled labor is clearly even more value.

As an exercise, I encourage you to track the amount of volunteer hours donated to your organization each year, and multiply that number by $23.56. Used correctly, volunteers can have a very significant impact on your budget, which in turn lets you direct potential savings to other aspects of your operations. In addition, for younger supporters a volunteer opportunity is frequently the first connection they make with your organization. That connection then becomes a stepping stone to future financial support.

If you have a volunteer who absolutely loves fundraising, let them help you reach out to donors. Other volunteers can still play an important role in your organization’s fundraising program:

  • They can serve as a focus group for your case for support.
  • Some volunteers can be a helpful market check: is your organization expanding its corporate sponsorship program? Get input from volunteers in leadership and management positions at local companies.
  • Have volunteers give input on prospective donors.
  • Ask volunteers to help make introductions to individuals the organization would like to connect with.
  • Have volunteers engaged in recruitment, event promotion, and marketing efforts.
  • Could volunteers support communication efforts by writing press releases or newsletters? Could they help with photos and posts on social media?

Volunteers can be a significant asset. It takes commitment by the organization, but those who engage and manage their volunteers in a thoughtful manner can benefit tremendously.

About Marc Huber

Marc Huber is a fundraising professional with over seventeen years of experience, including strategic messaging, board development, annual giving, capital campaigns, and volunteer consultation and training. He's also the author of The Fundraising Co-Pilot.

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