5 Ideas For Working With Volunteers

December 26, 2013       The NonProfit Times      

Volunteers are a necessity for most nonprofits and the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto, Canada is no different. According to Gail Nyberg, its executive director, volunteers are used at the organization solely because they are needed. Without them, she wrote in the book “5 Good Ideas,” they couldn’t come close to completing their mission of providing meals for the poor.

Not all volunteers are created equal, according to Nyberg. She wrote that the most important ones are what she terms the “regulars.” These are the individuals who come in to assist the organization routinely and often, not the corporate groups or the school groups who come to help with events a few times a year. Working effectively with this core group of supporters is as important as the work they do. Nyberg shared five ideas to ensure that these individuals do the best jobs possible:

  • Communicate clearly, broadly, and often. To keep morale high, let your regular volunteers know what’s happening in your agency and make sure they understand how their efforts are furthering your work. This fosters a sense of engagement that keeps them coming back.
  • Understand and forecast your volunteer needs. There’s nothing worse than having volunteers rattling around with nothing to do, or so much work that they can’t keep up. It’s important to determine what your volunteer needs are, and plan for them accordingly.
  • Have clear and concise position descriptions. Potential volunteers must have an accurate sense for what they are signing up. There’s nothing worse than telling a skilled writer that he can volunteer in the communications department, only to disappoint him on the first day by assigning him mundane tasks.
  • Train your staff in volunteer management. In many cases, the employees responsible for supervising volunteers may need some assistance with the task. This is a great opportunity to provide some professional development for your staff by offering them management training.
  • Institute a formal volunteer-recognition process. Informal recognition of your volunteers is essential, but you should also plan formal ceremonies or parties to celebrate their accomplishments. For example, staff at Daily Bread Food Bank nominate the top volunteers every year and each nominee receives a plaque and small gift.