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7 Lessons for Organizations that Rely on Volunteers

This article originally appeared on and is featured here in partnership with the Minnesota Alliance for Volunteer Advancement.

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Judie Russell of the Minnesota Alliance for Volunteer Advancement (MAVA), has long contemplated a question: How do organizations that depend mainly on volunteers for service delivery contrast with those driven by staff, where volunteering plays a supporting role?

Determined to answer this question, MAVA held a roundtable in January 2013 in St. Paul, and then again in April 2013. This discussion included close to 30 leaders from organizations that deliver most of their services through volunteers.

From these meetings, MAVA heard numerous insights from organizations that primarily provide their services through the efforts of volunteers.

7 key takeaways for organizations who rely on volunteers:

Volunteer Value: The value of volunteers is embedded in the organizational culture – everyone honors, trusts and values volunteers.

Staff Support: The role of staff is to support volunteers. If staff is not supportive of the value of volunteers they are in the wrong place.

Volunteer Ideas: The organization acts on volunteers’ ideas and gives volunteers a voice.

Leadership Roles: Volunteers are involved in high responsibility roles and leadership roles.

Organizational Structure: A good organizational structure is in place with well-defined roles for volunteers. The best practices for engaging volunteers followed.

Relationship Building: A focus is on building relationships – between volunteers and volunteers, volunteers and staff, volunteers and people served – true bonds.

Adaptability: The organization stays in tune with changes in who is available to volunteer and volunteer’s expectation change and adapts with the changes.

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In conclusion, the insights shared by the Minnesota Alliance for Volunteer Advancement shed invaluable light on the foundational elements necessary for organizations relying on volunteers. Adopting these principles not only enhances the effectiveness of volunteer-driven services but also strengthens the organization's impact on the community it serves.

Thank you to the Otto Bremer Foundation and InCommons, an initiative of the Bush Foundation for support of this project.

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