Get With The Program

Can you think of a non-profit that does not rely to some extent on volunteers? The Red Cross relies on volunteers. Big Brothers Big Sisters relies on volunteers. Your local library relies on volunteers.

Volunteers can make the difference between success and failure of non-profit events, including fund raisers, and they can provide significant strategic professional resources, including legal advice, market analysis, and operational efficiency upgrades. They can also fill critical day-to-day roles such as serving as museum docents, sorting and shelving books at the library, and chaperoning school dances.

In some non-profits, the core staff are employees of the organization and volunteers are hired to help out the paid staff (eg: schools). In other organizations, the volunteers are the core staff and paid employees are hired to help out the volunteers (eg: alumni and professional associations).

In either case, volunteers are working on their own time and they are not receiving traditional compensation for their expertise and labor. Thus, organizations that hire volunteers tend to make two serious mistakes:

It assumes it has little leverage over the actions and activities of its volunteers, and
It feels it has little incentive to train and supervise its volunteers.

In fact, any organization that takes advantage of volunteer effort and experience should establish a volunteer program that is as thorough and structured as its employee program. For the organization’s leadership to do any less is a failure to maximize resource utilization. If an organization has high volunteer turnover, struggles with volunteers doing all kinds of work other than what the organization would like them to do, or can’t get volunteers to show up and help when needed, the problem most likely is not with the volunteers themselves but with the organization’s volunteer management program.

The first step in setting up a volunteer program is to identify what the organization needs from its volunteers, starting with the big picture: Are volunteers going to be filling in the gaps for the paid staff or are the volunteers going to be the core of the non-profit’s service offering? Many museums, for example, have large contingents of docents who volunteer time to guide visitors and still more volunteers who help with fund raising, but the security personnel, the collection specialists, and the operational staff are usually full time, paid employees. The volunteers have specialize roles but they fill in for the staff.

Laying out an org chart with volunteer positions clearly marked can help with the process of identifying the nature and strategic value of the volunteer roles.

All volunteers need some form of systematic training or orientation. A bird can push its fledgelings out of their nest and expect that eventually they will figure out how to fly. Genes encode an amazing amount of information on which plants and animals can rely without ever having to be taught what to do. But what may seem obvious to the long term non-profit employee is not obvious to the volunteer who steps forward to take on a new role. There is no gene for each volunteer position. Even if a volunteer has held a similar role in a different organization, each organization has its own way of doing things and the volunteer needs to be taught what that is. You can’t just have a volunteer show up and figure out what s/he is supposed to do. Teach, observe, correct, reward. It’s that simple.

The more critical or complicated the role, the more carefully and thoroughly the organization should train its volunteers. Just as it would its employees.

Volunteer In Your Community

Volunteering is a great way to make a positive impact in your community, and it really does make you feel good. Many people don't volunteer because they don't where to go and how to offer their help. Why you should volunteer. Have you ever heard the saying , "It takes a village to raise a child"? This is a very true statement, and can applied to many situations. For example, it takes many people to put together a food drive, or a baseball team, or a church function. One person can not do all the work, but one person CAN make a big difference! You may not think that your time will help others, but it will. Here is how to volunteer in your community. Call the Garden State Chapter at 800.437.4949 and let us know you would like to volunteer.

Become an Advocate

When you became a Board Member for a nonprofit what was your motivation? Did you dream of a better future for a specific group of people? Did you dream of creating awareness for an important cause? Did you think you could make a difference by becoming an advocate to increase awareness, educate and raise more funds? If the answer is yes, the question is "How's it going for you?"