Volunteers play a huge role in everything we do. In 2010, 870 volunteers contributed 10,824 hours of service, the equivalent of 5.5 additional full-time employees!Yes, that's right: this nonprofit is proud to say that volunteer engagement allowed this organization to keep 5.5 people from being employed!
In addition to carefully crafting the way you talk about the value of volunteers, your organization should also consider creating a mission statement for your organization's volunteer engagement, to guide employees in how they think about volunteers, to guide current volunteers in thinking about their role and value at the organization, and to show potential volunteers the kind of culture they can expect at your organization regarding volunteers. The mission statement should be on at least one page of your organization's web site, it should be included in your organization's employee and volunteer policies and procedures, and it should be included in all new employee and new volunteer orientations.
The mission statement should answer this question: why does this organization involve volunteers? Here's some possible answers to that question, in the form of mission statements for volunteer engagement (feel free to use these or to adapt these for your organization or program, as you like):
All tasks at our organization related to advising new entrepreneurs/mentoring young people/delivering meals/repairing bicycles are reserved for volunteers. We feel these roles, which are fundamental to the meeting of our organization's mission, are best done by volunteers - unpaid staff donating their time and talent - rather than paid employees.Be careful of any statement like, "We couldn't exist without volunteers!" unless it includes narrative that shows volunteers are not involved in order to not have to pay staff.
Such-and-such organization reserves certain tasks and roles specifically for volunteers, per our commitment to create opportunities for the community to participate in, offer feedback and endorse our work.
As a part of our commitment to both transparency and to creating opportunities for community investment in our organization, such-and-such organization welcomes volunteers in a variety of roles, including activities that directly support our paid employees, leadership positions and client services.
Just as some jobs are best done by paid employees, some tasks and roles at our organization are best done by volunteers. We therefore reserve certain positions for volunteers, including...
Our organization involves volunteers so that we can tap into skills, experiences and talents beyond what our excellent professional staff already bring to our organization and its work.
Every employee at our organization looks for ways to involve volunteers in his or her work. This is part of our commitment to involving the community in all aspects of our work.
Such-and-such organization is committed to helping to cultivate new professionals in the field of name-of-field-redacted. Therefore, we reserve certain tasks and roles for volunteer interns, to provide career-development experiences to emerging professionals.
As a part of our mission to help youth/people-with-disabilities/immigrants/displaced workers find employment, our organization reserves some tasks and roles at our organization for youth volunteers/volunteers-with-disabilities/volunteers-experiencing-unemployment/etc. Through these volunteer experiences, youth/people-with-disabilities/etc. gain skills and experiences that can help them in their career exploration and job searches.
Such-and-such organization reserves such-and-such tasks for volunteers, because we believe volunteers are the best people for these roles...
(Such-and-such tasks could be:)
- most tasks and leadership roles relating to phone-based counseling
- victim's services first responders
- troop leaders
- team coaches
- food deliverers
- counseling or training regarding financial literacy, career exploration, organic farming, photography, whatever
Learn more about how to talk about the value of volunteers.
I blog about this topic frequently, to show with various examples why talking about volunteers only in terms of money saved is bad for an individual organization that does it and bad for anyone that cares about volunteerism in general. Here are some of those blogs:
Research and case studies
regarding recruitment and retainment of volunteer firefighters &
justifications for involving volunteer firefighters that do NOT
relate to "money saved"
A little bit of commentary and a long list of resources, compiled from various sources. Updates welcomed!
Screening Volunteers for Attitude
When an organization involves volunteers in high-responsibility, long-term roles, volunteer turnover can be a program killer. Screening is vital to finding the right people for high-responsibility, long-term volunteer roles, particularly those where the volunteer will work with clients and the general public, and to screen out people who may be better in shorter-term assignments or assignments where they would not work with clients or the general public, or who would not be appropriate in any role at the organization.
Recruiting Local Volunteers
To Increase Diversity Among the Ranks
Having plenty of volunteers usually isn't enough to say a volunteering program is successful. Another indicator of success is if your volunteers represent a variety of ages, education-levels, economic levels and other demographics, or are a reflection of your local community. Most organizations don't want volunteers to be a homogeneous group; they want to reach a variety of people as volunteers (and donors and other supporters, for that matter). This resource will help you think about how to recruit for diversity, or to reach a specific demographic.
Virtual Volunteering Myths
Common misconceptions about virtual volunteering versus the reality of the practice.
Research on online volunteering
All of the academic research and journal articles about online volunteering and online community engagement.
A primer for working with people online.
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