Nonprofit organizations rely on grants, donors, and volunteers to fulfill their outreach to the community, but perhaps none is more important to the overall mission than the volunteer corps. As the leader of this group, your primary goal is to provide volunteer stewardship support.
Why are volunteers equally as important as donors?
Volunteers are the public face of your organization. Sure, the local chairman of your community's volunteer center might get interviewed on the news. But it's the rank-and-file volunteers who are out in the community every day, forwarding the mission of your group and getting recognized at the grocery store and the soccer field.
These individuals do everything from answering phones and taking out the trash to organizing events that raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, and everything in between.
In the US, every hour a volunteer donates amounts to $29.91 for your organization—over twice the national minimum wage.
This is what keeps volunteer leaders up at night—how to develop and implement the strategies that increase volunteer engagement and volunteer appreciation—in other words, convert volunteers into true stewards of the mission.
Seasoned volunteer leaders will tell you that anticipating volunteers' needs is a critical skill for the job—what makes people want to get involved with your organization?
Do they have a personal reason for joining your volunteers? Are they looking for a purpose, or do they have more time on their hands? Are they looking for a career in your field and trying to make contacts?
Understanding motivation does two things—it helps you understand their level of commitment, and place them in the right role in your organization. If you're managing the volunteer network for a dance nonprofit, a retired principal dancer is yours for life—as long as they're not doing office work.
There are four basic components to successful volunteer stewardship, and they all work together to create a happy whole.
In this article, we'll discuss why each is important for volunteer satisfaction, and volunteer involvement strategies.
But first, let's touch on what brings people through the door, or to your website.
The broad framework of your volunteer stewardship strategy is engagement. Without a means to keep your volunteers interested in your program, everything else falls apart.
The key here is to foster collaboration between your staff (or board, if you're the only paid staff) and volunteers to create volunteer opportunities that best serve the community and have the greatest impact on the organization.
The best way to implement this strategy is to include an experience and interest section on your volunteer application form so that you know at the outset what talents an individual brings to the table.
Match volunteers with tasks that play to their strengths—a creative writing major can write great grant proposals, but may not be great at database entry.
Pay Attention to Onboarding
The old adage about never getting a second chance to make a first impression starts with volunteer stewardship.
If your volunteer onboarding process isn't designed for volunteer growth and development, you'll lose them before they even get started.
Provide new volunteers with the materials they need to get familiar with the organization—online policies and procedures manuals, annual reports, links to social media—to make them feel like they are part of a focused and successful organization, where they are excited to make a difference.
One last thought—satisfied volunteers are likely to refer friends and family to volunteer or donate, and often become donors themselves.
You could argue that recruiting volunteers is the linchpin of a successful program—without a dedicated means to bring people in, you're relying on board members to do the work. So that's a good starting point for a new organization; using your board's contacts to start building a database of potential volunteers.
If you've got a core group of volunteers and need to expand, the first thing is to assess your needs, find the gaps in your organization, and identify the tasks that you'd like to put in the volunteer pool.
How do I get the word out?
Start with your current database of volunteers—let them know what opportunities you have, and ask them to forward the info to friends and family. Send out social media blasts that link back to your website.
Be specific about the opportunities—if you need website and technical help, or your organization helps people fill out their tax returns, spell out that you can really use IT or finance experts.
Don't neglect the influence of your board members. These are typically community leaders who are well-connected in both corporate and civic life, and the hub of your volunteer stewardship network.
Asking your board to pitch in with volunteer events (Habitat is the gold standard for this sort of thing, nonprofits helping other nonprofits is the ultimate feel-good) is a strong way to solidify volunteer relations.
The flip side of recruitment is retention—ensuring your team has a high level of volunteer satisfaction. How do I keep my volunteers coming back? First, get volunteer feedback after an event or project is complete–and act on those suggestions.
Share the stories of your volunteers' successes and positive impacts on the community. Let social media be your friend—tweet, share stories on Instagram and Snapchat, post, and email newsletters to your database.
Spotlight volunteers who have gone above and beyond their tasks, and how their hard work and dedication have made a real difference in people's lives. Talk about how many hours a team spent on a project, and how it improved a community—and make it more interesting by using video.
Recognition also goes a long way towards keeping volunteers engaged–acknowledge milestones in fundraising, years in the program, or anything else that deserves attention.
The final component for developing your stewardship network is volunteer involvement strategies. Inspire your team to keep the overall mission top of mind, not the organization itself.
What else can I possibly do?
Focus your volunteer's attention on the impact they have on people's everyday lives, and how they are making things better through their hard work.
It's all well and good to pat your volunteers on the back to keep them motivated, but there's nothing that will be more satisfying than seeing a kid swim for the first time or an adult reading with confidence.
People want to feel good about themselves and their contributions to society—when your volunteers are fully vested in your mission, they have become stewards who will carry it forward.