Volunteers are at the heart of nonprofit organizations. They are the lifeforce that can bring meaningful goals to fruition when hiring resources are limited. However, managing volunteers can be a daunting task.
Volunteer management is one of the toughest tasks that a nonprofit has to master in order to optimize its performance.
In fact, a study conducted by Verified Volunteers found that this is the hardest issue that nonprofit organizations face.
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Why volunteer management is so important
It’s in the interest of your nonprofit to create long-lasting relationships with volunteers who have a strong connection with your mission and are willing to contribute to its realization.
You wouldn’t want to waste resources by onboarding new people all the time. Plus, with optimized management, you can achieve much more with the time dedicated by volunteers to your cause.
In order to help you craft your effective nonprofit business plan, this guide will take you through the most important aspects of volunteer management, along with suitable software, and recruitment and retention strategies.
What is volunteer management?
In a nutshell, all activities that you undertake in relation to working with volunteers for your nonprofit constitute volunteer management.
From attracting and recruiting people to scheduling and making sure people show up to organizing and retaining them for future collaborations — it’s all part of volunteer management.
In order to handle these processes effectively, it is key to develop strategies that suit your organization’s needs and mission.
Volunteer management is important for a number of reasons that impact both your nonprofit and the volunteers who show interest.
Outcomes of successful volunteer management
From your organization’s point-of-view, the benefits from proper nonprofit volunteer management are numerous:
- Clear workflow in place
- Better support for large initiatives
- Increase productivity
- Save time and resources on training new hires
- Meet deadlines
- Reach organization’s goals faster
Having a clear workflow and volunteer system in order is crucial to achieve a satisfactory level of productivity and to meet project and campaign deadlines. You need volunteers because projects often require more time or support than nonprofit employees can deliver. Tight budgets, quick deadlines, or large initiatives can all benefit from the help of generous volunteers.
This is how you can reach your organization’s goals, big or small.
Beyond that, good volunteer management practices also result in better retention rates, which is essential in saving time and resources that go into each recruitment and training cycle.
To accomplish this, your goal should be to create a positive experience for people so that they would want to come back and volunteer (or work as employees) for your nonprofit again.
If they struggle with inefficient procedures or chaotic workflow and communication, they are likely to think twice before spending their time for your nonprofit.
They would also be less inclined to give their best in the work at the time they’re volunteering.
Volunteers select your nonprofit because of the causes that you believe in and support, but may be put off by a chaotic or unfriendly environment.
Thus, it’s important to create a positive experience for them, so they come back for the next campaign or project.
With all this in mind, it makes sense to first ask the question: what are the job duties of a nonprofit volunteer manager?
Of course, the person needs to organize recruiting, signups, and make sure that tasks get completed, as in any work context.
But the task is also to create a sense of community among the volunteers. People should feel they are achieving something meaningful together, so that they would be keen on continuing their efforts in the future.
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Volunteer management best practices
There are proven ways to optimize the processes in your nonprofit.
Here, you’ll find some best practices in volunteer management that you can try out in your organization.
1. Set clear goals for your volunteer program
In order to achieve the goals of your nonprofit with the help of supporters, you have to define the goals of your volunteer program from the start.
You need to appeal to the type of people you want to attract with the specific skills that your projects needs. Outline the ideal volunteer, along with any requirements you have, such as age, training, or perhaps access to a vehicle.
Then, you have to define the ways in which you can bring them into your nonprofit. It’s also important to focus on volunteer satisfaction, as it is at the heart of successful partnerships with pro bono contributors.
You may also consider if your program wants to aim for converting current donors into volunteers, as well.
2. Create a volunteer database
Effective volunteer management revolves around a solid database of people you can contact for support.
Luckily, today there are a number of tools that can help you build a central hub with this data. It is a good idea to have full profiles of the people, including skills and interests, communication preferences, and history with your organization, among others.
Then, you can segment the database according to different variables, so you can easily find the volunteers you need.
This will be instrumental when you organize the volunteer group for your next campaign or project.
3. Craft and apply a communication and engagement strategy
Mailchimp is one email platform you can use for volunteer outreach
How you work with volunteers starts with how you communicate with them.
Creating a solid communication plan, as well as an engagement approach, are essential for the effective overall management.
You have to set how often you would send individual or batch emails, as well as the language and tone you use in your communication to volunteers.
Many nonprofits start a blog as a way to communicate with volunteers and share their upcoming events and projects. Others rely on social media channels and monthly newsletters to stay in touch.
You should also take into account how to process the feedback you receive from them.
In terms of engagement, regular gestures of gratitude and recognition via your communication channels contribute to a winning strategy, as do celebrations and team-building activities.
4. Bonus: Rewards and recognition
Most volunteers sign up because they believe in the work your nonprofit is doing, and want to help.
However, it never hurts to show how much you appreciate their efforts during and after the volunteer sessions.
Consider asking a sponsor to provide snacks for volunteers or discount vouchers that they can redeem after. It won’t cost your nonprofit, and it will help show your gratitude for those who give up their time to help. Plus, one of your sponsors will likely be on board if they’re already supporting your cause.
Bringing treats for volunteers can go a long way in showing gratitude
Nonprofit volunteer management software
The volunteer management process is intricate, and using the right tools is essential for handling it in the best way possible.
What software is best for nonprofit management? How can you optimize your workflows?
We’ve selected a few tools that will save you time and effort: from volunteer time tracking and scheduling to CRM and database management.
One of the tools that can be of great help for your volunteer management is Hubstaff. It has a dedicated nonprofit time tracking solution, which can streamline your efforts by helping your team track their time and schedule volunteers.
The platform allows you to keep an overview on hours spent on different programs, grants and initiatives. Your employees can use it to see how much time and effort goes into volunteer management, and then optimize from there.
When it comes to managing volunteers, you can schedule team members with ease and make sure you’re covered for events and activities.
Hubstaff offers robust reporting options, which can give you insights into optimizing your workflow. By tracking your team’s time and tasks, you might illuminate the need to hire or grow your network.
With this data, you can make a clear case to your board of directors or executive team.
A prominent software solution for nonprofits is Salsa CRM, which provides fundraising CRM capabilities and a rich relationship management database.
It allows you to store various data about your volunteers and donors, such as contacts, relationships, interests, demographics, and social media accounts. It can also help you with donation tracking.
VolunteerHub is among the well-established software solutions created specifically to organizations working with volunteers.
The platform offers dynamic campaign pages, team organization, rewards and recognition features, volunteer scheduling and database, recruitment and registration capabilities, and relationship tracking features.
VolunteerHub can help you automate many of the processes that you have around volunteer management.
Volunteer recruitment strategies
As a part of your effective volunteer management plan, you need a strategy for the recruitment process. This is how you can streamline the way in which you find volunteers and attract them to work for your nonprofit.
You need to define what type of volunteers you are looking for: whether you need people with a specific skill set, or a general profile.
Volunteering can be event-based, skill-based, administrative, or focused on advocacy, among others.
It’s best to determine the perfect profiles of the volunteers you want to attract for a specific campaign or project before launching your recruitment.
This will also help you at the next stage when you assign people to different tasks.
Finding volunteers for your nonprofit
1. Use platforms to find volunteers
In terms of advertising your volunteering jobs, there are a number of established websites where you can post them.
Besides using suitable platforms to promote your projects, it’s also important to craft catchy descriptions that give enough information about your organization, its purpose, the role’s responsibilities, and the necessary skill set.
Don’t forget to include a personal touch that will make you stand out from the rest. In a sea of options, this is one of the ways to attract the right type of volunteers.
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2. Host promo events
Besides digital recruitment, if you have the necessary resources, you can also host promotional events in order to present your nonprofit’s cause to potential volunteers.
These events can be a good opportunity to meet people live and set the basis for fruitful collaborations. Recruitment events can also turn into social get-togethers for volunteers with certain interests.
When you receive applications from people, you also need to have a system for processing and selecting the best matching candidates.
That’s how you can make sure that you’re choosing the most suitable volunteers who are the most connected with your cause and capable of contributing to your nonprofit.
3. Choose candidates from your existing network
You can also tap into your existing network to look for appropriate volunteers. You can create initiatives for your current donors, supporters, and members that engage them to participate in your next project.
They already have a strong connection with your organization, and may be only a step away from dedicating time toward volunteering as well.
Volunteer retention strategies
As noted earlier, it’s in your nonprofit’s interest to create long-lasting relationships with volunteers.
This would save you a lot of time and effort that you would otherwise have to spend on finding and training new people.
That’s why it’s useful to set and apply retention strategies from the very beginning.
Have a solid communication plan in place
Having a solid communication plan is a must, as you need to create an easy pathway for information exchange with volunteers. You also have to take into account feedback received from them, so communication can go both ways.
Assign the right people to the right jobs
In terms of the workflow, it’s important to assign people to the most appropriate jobs according to their skills and interests.
Volunteers want to feel they’re truly contributing, and that’s only possible if they can actually get the job done.
Have a solid onboarding procedure in place
You also need to create a solid onboarding procedure that introduces new members to your organization and its way of working.
Set clear goals and provide support
Don’t forget as well to set clear goals and provide support for their execution, so that people don’t struggle and get frustrated.
Providing people with the chance to develop their own skills would additionally motivate them to contribute to your organization. Allow volunteers to practice what they enjoy and also give them the opportunity to lead when appropriate.
In order to keep volunteers engaged with your nonprofit’s cause, you can regularly provide recognition for their hard pro bono work.
As mentioned, people do it because they feel connected with a meaningful purpose, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t enjoy receiving well-deserved gratitude.
In addition to sponsor donations as thank you gifts, you can organize fun activities to foster community building and create an overall sense of lightness and enjoyment for the volunteer groups. These can take the form of team games, celebration events, challenges or other types of initiatives that bring people together while working for the common goal.
Inspiring volunteers can also lead to more talk about your nonprofit.
If they feel passionate about your cause, they’ll spread the word about you online and offline, reaching out to their social circles. This boosts your organization’s awareness and can lead to new supporters, donors, and volunteers alike.
Start improving your volunteer management processes
Even though working with volunteers is different than employee relationships, managing volunteers efficiently is what can help you achieve your goals and build long-lasting partnerships with dedicated people.
Nonprofit volunteer management is essential for the success of your organization.
By crafting a sound plan with volunteer recruitment, engagement and retention strategies, you’ll be on your way to realizing your nonprofit’s mission in new and exciting ways.