Essential Volunteer Management Strategies for Your Nonprofit
Make it easier to manage and retain your best volunteers.
When it comes to growing and sustaining your nonprofit, you need volunteers who are highly engaged, reliable and skilled. Once you’ve found a few dependable and committed volunteers, your organization will be able to move forward on its essential goals.
However, it can be difficult to know where to find volunteers, how to bring them onboard, and then make sure they’re happy doing the work. As you add more volunteers, it can also be chaotic to manage all of them without letting things -- and people -- fall through the cracks.
This can mean more work for your existing volunteers and staff, as well as risk high turnover. That’s why nonprofits should invest in volunteer management strategies that help everyone focus on the cause.
What Is Volunteer Management?
Volunteer management, at its most basic, is the proper “handling” of your volunteers and the work they do. Volunteer management involves creating systems and standards for engagement, administration, coordination and more. When done properly, it should also limit "hand-holding" and speed up progress.
Unfortunately, many nonprofits struggle with volunteer management. In fact, according to a 2017 report from Verified Volunteers, volunteer management is the #1 issue nonprofits face. It’s time to demystify volunteer management and suggest a few strategies that any nonprofit can use.
Volunteer Management Strategies for Your Nonprofit
Every nonprofit is different, which means that volunteer management is going to be different, as well. Whether your nonprofit is starting out with one volunteer or you’ve got hundreds, there is only one goal in volunteer management: How can our organization work with (and through) our volunteers to meet our goals?
With the end goal of your organization in mind, it’s much easier to manage volunteers in a way that helps them do their work. Management strategies also streamline the process, so there is less oversight. Below are a few volunteer management strategies that can help your nonprofit harness the power of your volunteers.
For many nonprofits, merely finding and onboarding a volunteer is a step in the right direction. However, creating volunteer processes can help your organization find more skilled and engaged individuals. Focusing on recruitment is the first element of volunteer management, so consider:
- How you recruit volunteers. Are you just casting a wide net or are you looking for people with particular skills or experience? Set a standard for this and start doing volunteer recruitment based on what you need in a volunteer.
- How you collect volunteer data. When recruiting volunteers, ask them to list their professional and volunteer history, skills, and interests. This will be a huge asset later when you need other volunteers who are similar.
- Where you assign volunteers. Once you’ve started onboarding, it helps to have a system that streamlines assignments based on skills or interests. For example, someone with many years as a teacher can tutor children, while a web designer may be a great asset to have in the office.
Onboarding great volunteers is just the first step in better volunteer management. The second strategy engages volunteers. An unengaged volunteer force can lead to fewer results, less direction, and high rates of turnover. Of course, the best way to prevent this is to engage volunteers in a way that shows how valuable they are. A few engagement strategies you can implement include:
- Providing recognition. If a volunteer or group of volunteers is responsible for a direct impact on your organization, thank them. Incentives for reaching organizational goals is also a great way to encourage volunteers to continue their essential work.
- Making it fun. Volunteering shouldn’t be a drag. Find ways to make work fun, whether it’s throwing a monthly volunteer BBQ or by starting a friendly challenge between volunteer groups. Develop a culture within your organization to keep volunteers committed and close.
- Creating more opportunities. Volunteers, especially those who are highly skilled, may begin to feel bored in a role that doesn’t let them test or grow their abilities. This is where your recruitment paperwork comes in handy. Continually offering opportunities based on your volunteers’ skills will keep them involved and attentive.
Keeping volunteers can be, for many nonprofits, the hardest part of volunteer management. While there’s often a flux of volunteers around the holidays or after a particularly successful marketing campaign, retention rates are something that any organization should want to improve. To ensure that you’re keeping your best volunteers, make sure:
- You're making it easy for them to do their work. This is the crux of your volunteer management system. If your volunteers know what they need to do, when they’re doing it, and how it’s moving the organization forward, they are much more likely to stay. Definite progress on the organization’s (or even an individual’s) goals is vital for satisfaction. Using tracking software or tools that let them track hours or organize their tasks is critical. Write job descriptions for each volunteer position. A volunteer handbook for easy reference is also useful.
- You’re staying in touch. Volunteer managers and other staff have their own work to do, but connecting with volunteers is critical. Make it easy for your volunteers to come to your managers/ team with questions or problems. Your volunteers are your organization’s “boots on the ground,” so you want them to know they are part of the team.
- You’re encouraging them to spread the word. If you want volunteers, who are highly engaged, help them share their volunteer experiences. Encourage them to like your nonprofit’s social media pages, post a fundraising event on their Facebook account, or talk to their friends about the work they do. Spreading the gospel of your organization will make your volunteers more excited to stick around. You’ll also have an easier time recruiting volunteers who are similar to the ones you already have.
Automating every step of your volunteer management process isn’t advisable. However, investing in simple tools that allow volunteers and staff to track progress and work is a move in the right direction.
Volunteer tracking tools, such as NobleHour or Track It Forward, can help you find volunteers, engage them “on the go,” and even generate reports of hours volunteered/programs supported. This makes time and impact tracking easier, and it gives volunteers a way to engage with your nonprofit when they’re not "on the clock."
A volunteer CRM and other databases can help you sort your volunteers by skills or other specifics that you can use to assign tasks or create new programs around. Spreadsheets and calendars are also ideal for managing time and dozens of schedules. There are plenty of free volunteer management tools out there, and many that are worth investing in.
Use technology to supplement a strong volunteer base, as it can limit the amount of staff you need to manage it.
Make Your Nonprofit’s Work Easier with Volunteer Management
Nonprofits that invest time and resources into building their volunteer systems see significant returns on investment. Not only can they recruit high-level volunteers, but those volunteers will have a clear call to action, workflow, and management process. It’s all about creating systems that help your volunteers do the work of your organization with minimal oversight.
However, volunteer management isn’t a rigid system. It should evolve as your organization does, and it should correct course as your organization’s goals expand or change.