Top 5 best practices for volunteer management

Volunteers are a nonprofit’s dream. They believe in your organization and it’s

Your real superheroes
Volunteer Management

mission 100%. They put in their best efforts of their own volition and their contribution to your organization is invaluable. But just like with employees, volunteers need to be managed professionally. Which means that you need to recruit, train, delegate, evaluate and show appreciation just as you would with employees.

So let’s take a look at some best practices for managing your volunteer program successfully.

  1. Recruit right. Your organization and your projects have specific goals. First, develop a list of all the volunteer jobs needed to achieve your goals. Then make a list of all the volunteer skills and characteristics that you’ll need for those jobs. Create simple recruitment forms with all the details that you need including contact details, skills, availability dates and times, previous volunteering experience. If you use volunteer management software, then you’ll probably have these forms already and should be able to get them on to your website fairly easily. Use social media and local media to get the word out about your volunteering opportunities. Target places where your ideal volunteers work or play. Local gyms, libraries, sports bars are all great places to put the word out, depending on what you are trying to recruit for.
  2. Train appropriately. As baby boomers retire and millennials look to give back, volunteer motivations and skillsets are changing. Make sure that your volunteer orientation and training are in step with your project goals and with your volunteers’ skills. Volunteers today want to make a tangible difference to causes and programs. So involve your volunteers in planning and execution, so that there’s a feeling of ownership in the process. Your orientation and training need to focus on cultivating a relationship with volunteers and engaging them long-term. That means everyone from your board members down, need to be in sync with your volunteer program and be involved in the training process. And that you understand volunteer’s skills, commitment and time availability.
  3. Delegate effectively. Empower volunteers by delegating specific projects to specific volunteers or volunteer teams. This delegation should be based on qualifications, responsibilities and time availability that you’ve drawn on from the first two stages. Make sure that you have defined responsibilities, limits and freedoms clearly. Staff your projects based on the strengths and skills of your volunteers. Set appropriate short, medium and long-term goals, so everyone is clear of what needs to be achieved. Stay involved with your volunteers to motivate them and provide continuity. But provide advice and help only when requested.
  4. Provide supervision. Just like regular staff, volunteers need regular direction and feedback. Supervision is about helping your volunteers get a handle on what they are supposed to be doing, let them know when they are doing well and providing direction when they need it. You need to support your volunteers so they can contribute effectively to your organization’s needs, while at the same time meeting the volunteers’ motivations for being there. This role can be played by a volunteer manager or a senior volunteer. This is also a great way to get feedback and ideas from your volunteers. You can use your volunteer management software here to provide additional means of feedback and communication to volunteers.
  5. Recognize volunteer contributions. Show your volunteers that you are grateful for their help. An easy way to keep your volunteers engaged is to acknowledge their contributions to your organization. You could use formal recognition such as awards or certificates to publicly demonstrate gratitude to your volunteers. Use informal methods such as thank-you notes and emails to volunteers for finishing a job. It’s important that you mark your volunteer’s milestones with you. Maybe they’ve reached a certain number of hours of volunteering or number of months of volunteering. Use your software to keep track of these events and thank volunteers immediately. Use simple gifts like buying pizza for a volunteer group, free movie tickets or gift cards to recognize volunteers.

Following these principles improves the outcomes of your volunteer programs. It also gives your volunteers a more relevant experience and helps to build positive long-term relationships with them.

Would love to hear from you about specific ideas that you use to manage your volunteer programs.

Reward, recognize and retain your volunteers.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of most nonprofit organizations. Most of them dedicate their time to volunteer for a cause that they believe in. And that is rewarding in itself. For nonprofits, volunteers are priceless. They add value to your organization, bring new ideas and enthusiasm and connect your organization to the local community. The success of your volunteer program depends completely on your ability to retain and celebrate volunteers.

Recognize and reward volunteers
Recognize and reward volunteers

Volunteers not only need to feel valued, but really should be valued. They need to be respected and recognized in order for your volunteer program to function effectively. Knowing the financial benefit of the work that volunteers do, will justify the costs of volunteer celebrations and rewards.

Recognizing volunteers is one of the easiest things to do that has really high impact. But it often gets overlooked because of the difficulty of tracking what volunteers are actually doing. This happens even in the best organizations. When everyone is over-worked, it’s easy for things to slip between the cracks. That’s where volunteer time tracking can make a huge difference, ensuring that all volunteer time is tracked and transparent.

Volunteer Tracking and Rewards
Volunteer Tracking and Rewards

If your volunteers are tracking their time every time they come in, you have complete insight into who’s active and how much time they are spending with you. You can easily set up automatic milestones like 50 hours, 100 hours. When your volunteers reach those milestones, give them a small gift. Maybe a pin, a certificate, coupons for cookies, perhaps just a public mention of the milestone.  Nominate your volunteers to the President’s Volunteer Service Awards. Any of these will make your volunteers feel special. Knowing that someone else knows what they are doing makes it all worthwhile.

When volunteers track hours and that progress is visible to everyone, it makes a volunteer fell connected to the organization and to other volunteers. Post a volunteer leader-board in your newsletters, on your websites, at a central position in your organization. Kindle a little competitive spirit among your volunteers. Give your best volunteers a huge morale boost.

Engaging young volunteers

Last week, I watched my 12th-grade son manage a pretty large initiative

Engage young volunteers to your cause
Engage young volunteers to your cause

to feed 5000 under-privileged kids a special meal. He got a quick-service-restaurant on board to provide the meals with a great discount, he raised the money for the effort, all fairly easily. But where he really seemed to have trouble was to get enough other kids to work with him on the effort. He pulled it off, but since then I did some research and reading on engaging young volunteers. And it looks like there are some answers for him and for others looking to engage with young volunteers.

  1. Appeal to the social leader. Young people enjoy participating in volunteer activities with their friends. According to the Dosomething.org Index on Young People and Volunteering, an astounding 75.9% of those whose friends volunteer on a regular basis, also volunteer. If key influencers are convinced about your cause, they automatically bring in other friends in. Allow this peer-camaraderie to develop naturally.
  2. Appeal on their terms. Young people are born tech-savvy. While they are on their phones all the time, very few young people actually make calls or check their emails on their phones. They also intuitively do their own stuff on mobile apps all the time. So you definitely need to let young people set their volunteering schedules and preferences on their own through a mobile app. Give them ways to share status updates and pictures on their favorite social media. Not only does this bring more awareness of your cause, you will definitely have more young volunteers from their social circles.
  3. Involve them in the issues that they care about.  From that same
    The issues that teens care about
    The issues that teens care about

    Dosomething.org Index, the top 3 issues that teens care about are Animal Welfare, Hunger and Homelessness. While the percentages for each of these vary across regions, overall these are main issues. If your volunteer opportunities are in these areas, you’ll definitely see a lot of interest from younger volunteers.

  4. Use young people as fundraisers. Overall, fundraising is the top way that most young people volunteer. 38.5% of young people who volunteer have fundraised for charities. Can you think of anything more potent than a passionate teen asking an adult for a donation for a good cause? Believe me, it’ll work much better than that cold call or the flyer that you were thinking of. Young people can be the best ambassadors of your cause.
  5. Lighten up the rules. Young people work differently. Bend your rules slightly to deal with the way that they work. They may come in late, leave early and seem remote. Give them work that they could thrive at. They’re naturally tech savvy. So anything to do with tech, music, sports, working with younger kids, they’ll love. Young people complain that they get jobs that no one else wants to do. Give your young volunteers jobs that give them responsibility and a sense of achievement. Give them things that they can do as a group and you’ll never be short of helping hands.
  6. Find different incentives. The single largest concern for most young people is college. If possible, offer them volunteer opportunities that help with college admissions. If you want to give them incentives, make that something that works for admissions too. T-shirts (though always welcome) may not be the best incentive. Find out what the latest little gadget that kids seem to be hankering for. See if you can make that the gift for your volunteers.

By better understanding how to engage and retain young volunteers, you are laying the foundation for the next generation of your long-term volunteers.

How to manage volunteer no-shows

You are all set for your big summer event. You’ve spent hours training your volunteers getting them up-to-speed, you’ve assigned them to shifts optimally based on their choices, you’ve even sent out email reminders to make sure that your volunteers know when and where they need to be.  Your big day turns around and some of your volunteers haven’t showed up. Sound familiar?

So how do you the Volunteer Manager pick up the pieces? Here are some strategies to help you cope.

  1. Build a buffer with Floater staff. No-shows happen despite all your efforts.
    volunteer tracking
    Managing Volunteers

    Better to buckle down and be ready for it. So you are going to need some extra bodies. Build a 10 – 15% buffer of additional volunteers into your schedule. There’s always extra work at events. So even if you have fewer no-shows, you can put your extra volunteers to good use. Monitoring deliveries and vendors, crowd control, clean-up crew – all good last minute duties for additional volunteers.

  2. Train volunteers and show them the importance of their job. Train volunteers properly and know that they are doing. They are more likely to stay engaged with your organization. Ensure that volunteers understand the importance of their job and how it affects the organization. Share stats of how much volunteer time means to the organization in dollar terms.
  3. Recognize your volunteers. Track volunteer engagement with your organization diligently. Make sure that your star volunteers are recognized. Use simple software to keep track of the hours that your volunteers spend with you. This is undoubtedly the best way to keep your volunteers coming back and working assigned shifts. You don’t need to give out big gifts. Just a simple thank you note from your Executive Director or coupons to a coffee shop should be sufficient.
  4. Make it easy for volunteers to communicate with you. Give your volunteers as many ways as possible to communicate with you. Phone calls / emails / text. Use volunteer management software that allows volunteers to Cancel / Reschedule their shifts online or on their mobiles. If it’s easy for a volunteer to Cancel on their mobile or online, they will. If they need to call someone to Cancel, they may not.
  5. Monitor check-ins. You need to be tracking who’s on site. The best way is to use technology where your volunteers can check themselves in, when they arrive. If you are using paper lists, make sure that your volunteers report to a central location where they can be checked in. That way, you can quickly scan the list and know who’s there. If it’s a large event with multi-locational check-ins, keep in touch with your supervisors to know if there are no-shows. Send your floater volunteers to however needs them the most.

The bottom-line is that paper lists and spreadsheets don’t allow for flexibility and adaptability. Use good volunteer management technology to help you adapt to situations quickly and seamlessly.

Of memories and management.

A couple of weeks ago, I met up with a group of friends. I was astounded by the eidetic memory of one of them. As she showed pictures  from 37 years ago, one of the women was able to rattle off dates, events, anecdotes of people. Down to even the names of the dogs at one of the houses.

I’m pretty sure that one of the reasons that those memories were so strong was that the exchange program was so seminal in her formative years. But what of less influencing events? How do we manage those? How do we ensure that we actually do everything that has to be done, complete all the tasks and activities of our daily work life. And that of our home life. Can we rely on just our memories to carry us through all of that ever-expanding domain?

Fortunately, there’s a range of technology to help us get through the daily grind. I

Mobile and wearable technology
Mobile and wearable technology

remember my dad’s to-do lists. Every morning, his first task would be to make a list of all the things that he had to through the day on a sheet of paper. He would tick off tasks as he got them done. Today, with To-do lists on our ubiquitous mobile phones and wearable technology, it’s easy to organize and get work done efficiently. With multiple calendars on our mobile phones, you can set up all your meetings and timed activities on your calendar with reminders to make sure that you don’t miss a thing.

Moving on to our own domain of volunteer tracking and management in the

V4S Management Dashboard
V4S Management Dashboard

resource-constrained non-profit world. Technology becomes key to handling large numbers of volunteers who come in at different times to do different tasks. You can use technology to post your volunteer opportunities on mobiles or on the web. It’s not just McDonalds that can get people to self-serve and clean up after themselves. Volunteer tracking software allows your volunteers to sign up for those opportunities at their convenience, either on their mobiles or on the web. Automatically send out registration confirmations, event reminders and thank you emails. Generate online / mobile-based signup sheets and rosters. Volunteers can check in/out of their assignments to track the time spent and send you feedback online. You can use volunteer tracking to identify your star volunteers and recognize them.

The return on investment includes reduced workload for harried nonprofit staff, greater convenience and better engagement with volunteers, and the ability to ensure that the right number of volunteers are available for your projects. So for those times when just memory does not suffice to recall how many volunteers actually showed up for an event or how long they actually worked, volunteer management technology is definitely the answer.