Volunteer Management Best Practices: Part I

Sometimes it’s easier to follow established procedures, rather than starting your own. This is especially true if you’re a newer nonprofit volunteer manager. If you’ve inherited your role, or if the volunteer manager job begins with you, increase efficiency and stay organized by adopting procedures that are already proven effective.

Some of these tips come from the for-profit business sector, while others are unique to nonprofit organizations. Gather them into your own handbook and your organization will be better for it.

1. Establish Clear Communication with your Volunteers: Good communication begins the day your volunteers inquire about offering their services. Know whether or not you are currently accepting volunteer applicants. If so, let people know exactly what positions you have open, whether they are short- or long-term, and how many hours per week they require. Ask your volunteer applicant appropriate questions to guage both their areas of interest and their skill sets.

Make sure your applications are clearly written, detailing what is expected of all volunteers, as well as how the volunteer’s personal information will be used. If your charity requires volunteers to undergo background screening, state it on your application; you’ll need the person’s permission to start the process.

2. Provide proper training, if required. In a perfect volunteer situation, the skills you need are perfectly suited to a particular voluntneer, who jumps in with both feet. In the real world, you’ll at least need to orient each volunteer to your organization’s way of operating, your mission and goals, and the details of their position. Proper training will lead to a much more successful relationship with your volunteers. They’ll be happier, and more enthusiastic to return to help you again.

3. Feedback and Evaluations: Whether a new or long-serving volunteer, take a cue from employers and provide regular, formal feedback. Semi-annual or annual evaluations can be a great way to set aside time for one-on-one discussions. Since it’s a volunteer position, you as manager might provide feedback more like a coach, rather than an employer. Ask your volunteers to evaluate the organization—and you.

4. Manage Projects According to Volunteer Abilities: It only makes sense to avoid placing new volunteers in leadership positions—at least until you’ve been able to observe them performing assigned tasks. If you have a natural leader or experienced business owner or manager among your new volunteer recruits, they may be more ready to assume responsibility. Ask your longer-term volunteers if they’re ready to take on a leadership role in training or leading other groups of volunteers. They could make your job much easier!

Look for Volunteer Management Best Practices: Part II right here next week.

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