Tips for finding, managing volunteers

We work with a lot of nonprofits and nonprofits work with a lot of volunteers. It takes a gentle touch. It takes a firm touch. It takes a lot of appreciation. And it takes patience.

Here are some things we’ve picked up throughout the years.

Should you treat them like employees?

In a word, no. There has to be boundaries and a good line to draw is the one between paid employees and volunteers. Volunteers don’t have the same rights as paid employees but they still need to be treated respectfully and have their concerns heard. Good tip: When talking to volunteers, make sure to make their role sound like something they’re expected to do, not obligated to do.

How well do you know your volunteers?

Make an effort to get to know them. Find out why they like volunteering. Find out what they like about your organization. What do they find satisfying? What concerns do they have?

Understandably, if you’re managing hundreds of volunteers, you’re not going to be able to have a personal relationship with each and every one of them, but making sure they have the opportunity to voice their feelings is important. It may just be in a survey at the end of their service or it may be in a quiet moment during their service. Ask. Listen.

Do you need a volunteer policy?

Yep, you probably do. It doesn’t have to be long and complex, but outlining what is expected of volunteers is helpful to both the volunteers and the organization. It keeps things consistent and shows that your organization is committed to its volunteer program. It also helps your paid staff members know what the volunteers’ roles are.

Volunteer policies are pretty specific to each organization, so tailor yours to fit. Some things to think about including are:
Recruitment (make sure to address equality and diversity)

  • Training and Supervision
  • Expenses
  • Safety
  • Confidentiality
  • Complaint procedure

But wait. Where do these volunteers come from?

You have policies and volunteer managers and schedules and plans. All you need now are … volunteers.

  • Don’t limit yourself to a certain age — young, old, teens and parents can all be helpful.
  • Use social media, your website, word-of-mouth. But, you may have to spend money on advertising, printing, pamphlets.
  • Make a case for your organization and why it’s a great place to volunteer because of the wonderful work you do and how much you value your volunteers.
  • Talk up the experiences they’ll have and how those experiences can work in a job search or college application.
  • Use volunteer recruitment sites, such as Idealist, especially if location isn’t a criteria. Look for local recruitment sites, including your local United Way.
  • Be patient.

Once you round up your candidates, make sure they have passion for the work you are doing. Volunteers who aren’t committed to the mission can end up requiring too much maintenance and kindling their fires become counter-productive.