Volunteers are the lifeblood of the nonprofit community. Every organization, of any size, relies on the many hours, as well as dollars and other resources, to achieve their mission. Volunteers drive programs, services, and events while also serving as advocates and champions. It is often through their passion that the nonprofit’s brand is built and story is told. 

But keeping volunteers engaged is not an easy task.   

The ability for any organization to build a core of passionate volunteers starts with identifying the right people. Creating a strategic approach to finding and connecting with volunteers who support the vision is step one.  This first initial contact is followed by an effective, formal orientation process combined with ongoing training. The more educated the volunteers are, the more likely they are to be able to carry out their responsibilities.

Nonprofits that establish a strong relationship with their volunteers are typically more successful than those that have a transactional attitude. The process relies on sustainable relationships and smart nonprofit leaders recognize this. They know that their volunteers are on the front lines and so they are often the first people to meet the clients and other decision makers. Under many circumstances it is the volunteers who become the face of the nonprofit. In that way they have a significant influence over clients, the community, donors and other volunteers in shaping their attitudes and impressions about the nonprofit.    As such, it is imperative that they educate their volunteers in a meaningful, consistent way.  Referencing a handbook or other guidelines, nonprofits have an obligation to interact with volunteers at the same level of seriousness as they do when hiring a paid employee.

What do volunteers need to know? 

Getting the most out of volunteers means sharing your mission with them, describing their tasks in detail, discussing expectations (theirs and the organizations!), drawing the correlation between their roles and explaining the impact of the organization on the community. Introductions to the staff and to clients is also key to helping volunteers feel that they are a part of the nonprofit. Many organizations send their newsletters and other communications to the volunteers as well - just for the purpose of keeping them involved. 

How do you show volunteers you value them?

Along with identifying and training volunteers, it is also critical to show appreciation for all their hard work and efforts.  Volunteers come from all walks of life with a wide range of corporate backgrounds, but no matter what their title or responsibilities, they want to be recognized and valued. Here are some ideas that Jackie Looby, Director, Volunteer Services & Programs, Cornerstone Family Services and Morristown Neighborhood House and Erin Pach, Front of House Director, Mayo Performing Arts Center suggested during their webinar on this topic for SobelCo:

  • Participate in volunteer appreciation week
  • Send hand-written thank you notes
  • Recognize extraordinary volunteerism with a shout out
  • Create a “Volunteer of the Week” award
  • Mention and thank your volunteers on your website, in your newsletter, on Facebook or anywhere appropriate

In short, Volunteers are integral to every nonprofit’s success – so why not treat them that way!