July 1, 2013 Susan Ellis
Most would consider it a responsibility of executives to be well informed about the organizations they lead. They do not have to memorize every statistic, but ought to be able to speak knowledgeably about what services are being provided and to which clients or consumers, how much funding has been obtained and from what sources, the numbers and qualifications of employees.
Yet top managers are rarely aware of even the most basic information about the corps of volunteers supporting the organization’s mission.
An unscientific but thoughtful study of 15 hospitals was done a few years ago, all of which had a long-time volunteer resources department. The 15 directors of volunteer resources were asked a short list of factual questions about volunteer involvement and then asked the same questions of each hospital’s CEO. Not a single one of the pairs matched their answers. But, there was no pattern. When the execs under-estimated the numbers of active volunteers in their facility, some did so by as much as several hundred.
Those who over-estimated also were often way off the mark. The information disconnect continued down the list of questions. The conclusion of the study is that hospital executives in California were uninformed about the facts of volunteer engagement.
This was not an isolated finding nor, unfortunately, is it out-of-date. There are still managers who do not require regular, useful reports on volunteer activity, and even more who do not go beyond “how many volunteers do we have and how many hours did they serve?” What is not reported is not monitored. What is not accounted for is not valued.
Take this self-quiz and decide for yourself your level of awareness about the many donors working on behalf of your organization.
1. Basic Information About Volunteers In Your Organization
• The current number of active volunteers?
• The demographic profile of the volunteer force, such as:
• The age range of volunteers?
• The percentage of men and women?
• Their race and ethnicity?
• Their educational level and occupations (and who is a student, actively employed, and retired)?
• The neighborhoods from which they come?
• How many volunteer as individuals or in teams/groups through businesses, school-based programs, civic groups, and so on?
Think of all the uses to which you could put such data.
2. What Volunteers Actually Do
• Can you list most of the assignments volunteers presently fill? How about half of the assignments?
• Which units do not involve volunteers in their work? Why not?
• Are volunteers partnering with staff at the management level or just with lower-level workers?
• How the right volunteer might help you with your job?
• Whether your organization benefits from people who donate their skills, but are not labeled as “volunteers” — such as student interns, pro bono consultants, etc.?
• Do you recognize that board and advisory council members are volunteers, too?
• What insights volunteers might have about your services and procedures? When was the last time you asked them anything?
3. What Volunteers Accomplish
• Can you accurately describe the impact of volunteered work on your clients, the staff and the public? How do you know?
• Did you set goals and objectives so that volunteers can produce the most needed results? Did they meet those?
• What are ways that volunteer engagement has provided or generated positive publicity, effective public education, or expanded community outreach?
• Have volunteers been engaged in testing new projects and methods?
4. Correlation of Giving Time and Giving Money
• How often does anyone compare the list of financial donors with the list of volunteers?
• What analysis is done of how many of the names appear on both lists or just on one?
• The annual amount of money given by volunteers (current and former) in addition to time?
• Are volunteers intentionally asked to give money? Are financial donors offered the chance to also become volunteers?
5. The State of Volunteer/Employee Relations
• How do the paid staff feels about volunteers?
• How volunteers feel about your organization and whom they are telling?
• Which employees have had prior training or experience in working with volunteers?
• Which employees could use training in this subject now? Will they get it?
6. The Work of the Office of Volunteers
• What community contacts are made by members of the Volunteer Office?
• What types of community partnerships have been formed (e.g., liaison with nearby church youth group, nearest bank branch, etc.)?
• Is there any coordination between the outreach of the Volunteer Office and the connections made by the public relations and development staff?
7. General Operations
• Are volunteers visible on your Web site in a way that reflects their level of contribution to your organization? Can someone learn online about which volunteer opportunities are available at that moment? Can someone apply online to volunteer?
• Do you have adequate insurance coverage for volunteers?
• Is there adequate space to support volunteers while working? Places to sit, available computers and other equipment, a secure place to store their personal belongings, etc.?
Facts vs. Assumptions
If the self-quiz identified some blind spots in your knowledge of volunteer engagement, consider why that is the case.
If you employ a manager of volunteer resources it might seem legitimate to think of all this information in that staff member’s domain, not yours. But even if you have a human resources director, you keep informed about your employees. You might have a development officer, yet it’s pretty certain you still think about finding money. Volunteers are equally your responsibility.
In the majority of nonprofits, the number of volunteers is far greater than the number of paid staff. Even if those volunteers only give a few hours at a time, they are all supporters and expand your sphere of influence throughout the community. Further, they participate in the daily life of your organization, interacting with staff and clients. They should not be invisible.
Part of the problem is the word “volunteer” and the many stereotypes associated with it, whether overt or subconscious. An executive might feel too busy to deal with amateurs, teenagers and retirees, helpers, and people with little money. Is that your volunteer corps?
Learn more about what is happening now and you might find out that you have been missing the opportunity to strategically engage a treasure trove of remarkable, diverse, and highly-skilled people who might even have some money. Or, if your low expectations are validated, it’s time to articulate exactly what kind of time donors you want and need, and then make plans to recruit them. NPT
Susan J. Ellis is president of Energize, a Philadelphia, Pa.-based training, publishing and consulting firm specializing in volunteerism and Everyone Ready® online volunteer management training program www.everyoneready.info. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Her Web site is www.energizeinc.com