Many years ago, while still a young and developing Executive Director, my President and I were dealing with a complex and particularly challenging legal issue. Over the course of several days and weeks we had to have multiple conversations with each other and our legal representatives. This was during the time when you needed a U-Haul trailer to carry your cell phone and paid exorbitant rates per micro second. One particular week, after multiple hours of calls, the president, by now exasperated by the whole affair, shared in frustration, “Do you know how much this problem is costing me on my cell phone!!! I thought volunteering was supposed to be fun.”
Her statement (about fun, not the phone) was one of the most important professional epiphanies I ever had.
While fundraising fuels the nonprofit system, volunteers provide the engine, transmission, wheels and body that make nonprofits and faith-based organizations run. Few, if any successful nonprofits exist or thrive without a dynamic, engaged and most importantly, enthused volunteer corps.
We also know, however, that the social sector landscape is littered with disgruntled, disinterested, disconnected and disengaged volunteers. A peek behind the volunteer curtain (at dinner parties and cocktail parties) reveals significant numbers of volunteers who are frustrated, resentful and even, angry. Deep in the recesses of volunteer social circles there is a toxic mix that diminishes organizations’ abilities to grow their volunteer (and financial) resources.
It does not have to be this way. The delivery of effective and meaningful volunteer experiences is within the grasp of almost any organization. While the most sophisticated should (many do not) have volunteer tracking systems and volunteer managers, the secret to success does not lie solely with computers and specific professionals. It takes much more to change how volunteers are engaged, worked with and appreciated.
Positive volunteer experiences require a holistic approach that cuts across the entire organization. It requires the involvement of every staff person and multiple strategies to create and maintain an organization that effectively engages its volunteers and provides them with as much, if not more than the volunteer gives. Organizations that recognize this and implement such strategies find themselves with engaged, and more importantly MORE volunteers.
While there are dozens of potential strategies that should be employed, implementing aspects of these three are guaranteed to bring success:
1) Treat volunteers’ time as a precious commodity
Most volunteers are very busy people. Successful organizations are clear about what they ask of their volunteers (roles, responsibilities and setting expectations). In respecting volunteers’ limited time, effective organizations ensure that meetings and volunteer activities are well planned out and that everyone’s full attention is focused on the task at hand. In addition, and most importantly, effective organizations empower volunteers to say “no” without guilt or trepidation when asked to take on a new assignment.
2) Ensure that volunteering is fun (and meaningful)
While many organizations see the volunteer experience as obligatory (a common theme in the faith-based community) it is truly the rare volunteer who says “yes”, solely because of obligation. While there is nothing fun about having to deal with embezzlement issues or sexual scandals, we cannot forget that volunteers need to feel good about what they are doing and be reminded of the importance of their efforts. Making sure that you have the right volunteers working on the right projects is central to this. While the immediate experience may not always be fun it must always be conveyed and emphasized that what the volunteers are doing is meaningful and important.
3) Thank you, thank you, and thank you!!!
Annual volunteer appreciation events are wonderful, but not enough. A personal note from the Executive Director/CEO or President/Chair to a volunteer after a specific effort goes a long way. Giving free tickets, coupons, etc. as a simple thank you also speaks volumes. Most importantly, developing and operating from a comprehensive annual thank you and appreciation strategy ensures that such efforts are not ad-hoc but rather thoughtful and strategic. You can NEVER thank enough.
According to the Independent Sector, volunteers donated $172 billion in estimated labor costs in 2010 (the most recent reporting year). It is obvious that nonprofits cannot thrive, without volunteers. Working to ensure that each volunteer has a meaningful, positive, and fun experience is in every organization’s best interest. To do this, we must always remember and reinforce the message that volunteering is a gift and an offering.
If you are interested in receiving a sample volunteer system self-assessment tool please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am the Founder and CEO of Dynamic Change Solutions, your strategic consulting partner. We can help you enhance your board and volunteer experience and make your organization best in class.
We help our clients improve their organizations while facing change head on so that they emerge stronger, efficient, effective, and more successful.
Feel free to contact me at 404 606 6755 or email@example.com or visit our firm on the web at www.dynamicchangesolutions.com.