Nonprofit managers have long recognized the value of volunteers, including cost reduction, enhanced constituent services, broadened community reach, and the addition of outside skill sets and perspectives. The ability to identify, secure, and retain quality volunteers can be a key factor in an organization’s ability to further its mission and make a meaningful impact on its constituents.
According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey, almost one-fifth of the American adult population had volunteered at an estimated value of $188 billion during 2015. The survey also reports 72 percent of American volunteers devote a significant amount of time to the organizations they serve, an average of 52 hours annually.
Managers must devote significant effort to attracting and retaining volunteers and be cognizant of the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to doing so. Here are some ideas.
Understand the need
To determine the best volunteer acquisition strategy, it’s important to know how the volunteer will be best engaged and most impactful. The three broad categories in which volunteers are typically placed are governance, program and service delivery, and fundraising (e.g., serving on the board or a committee, helping in a soup kitchen or seeking sponsorship for a marathon). Different skill sets are required for each category, and the category often drives the method of recruitment.
To reach potential volunteers, locate their gathering points. According to the BLS survey, approximately 39 percent of volunteers got involved because of a friend, relative, or a personal connection within the organization. Another 42 percent approached the organization on their own.
Never hesitate to ask employees to volunteer and be referral sources. Ensure your message is motivating, and get it out internally to solicit and educate potential future volunteers.
Capitalize on existing technology. Use targeted social media, such as Instagram for Millennials and Facebook for Baby Boomers. Leverage any of the many online volunteer matching platforms, including Idealist, VolunteerMatch, etc.
Partner with for-profit organizations where employees have the skills needed to further your mission. Corporations are more actively encouraging community involvement among their employees, and many use corporate social responsibility as a retention tool, so you will likely find a receptive audience. Make connections with key personnel through networking or by simply contacting the HR or CSR departments.
Be intentional about retaining valuable volunteers
Keeping in mind that according to the BLS survey there has been a slight but steady decline in volunteerism since 2011, appoint a strong volunteer management function with protocols to build long-term relationships. The volunteer manager can help foster loyalty by staying in close touch with individual volunteers to address concerns and requests and assuring that responsibilities and tasks are clear to avoid wasting time. Make it a transformational experience; not a transactional experience.
Help volunteers do their work by providing appropriate tools and information. For example, in acknowledging the competitive demands for their troop leaders’ time, the Girls Scouts of the USA developed a Volunteer Toolkit, an online resource that offers meeting and project plans, as well as suggestions for activities.
Ensure that your nonprofit has a culture that is welcoming and supportive of volunteers. To gain the buy-in and support of staff, particularly those who will be charged with direct oversight of and engagement with volunteers, allow them a say in the planning, goals, and structure of the volunteer program. Provide both staff and volunteers with training in effective collaboration.
The quality of the volunteer experience is extremely important for volunteers’ ongoing efforts and future engagement in roles that might be different from those for which they were initially recruited.
Volunteers can be the catalysts to drive the mission while preserving organizational resources. An effective volunteer management program focusing on recruitment and retention is essential in maximizing volunteer engagement, improving strategic outcomes, furthering the mission, and preserving your organization’s good name.
Jennifer Hoffman, CPA, and Edward Miller, CPA, are audit partners in the Not-for-Profit and Higher Education practices of Grant Thornton LLP.
Jennifer Hoffman is an Audit Services partner in Grant Thornton’s Long Island office, a fully dedicated member of the East region Not-for-Profit practice and is the partner-in-charge of the metro New York Not-for-Profit practice. She joined Grant Thornton in September 2003 after spending eight years at a Big Four firm. Hoffman was selected by Long Island Business News as a member of their “Top 40 Under 40” Class of 2010, and was included in the “Who’s Who in Women in Professional Services” in the 2010 edition.
Ed Miller is an Audit Services partner in the East region Higher Education practice. He has more than 12 years of professional experience and is a member of Grant Thornton’s National Not-for-Profit Leadership Team. He was previously with Arthur Andersen.