Nonprofits often rely heavily on their volunteers. In fact, volunteers entirely run(http://www.imaginecanada.ca/resources-and-tools/research-and-facts/key-facts-about-canada’s-charities) 54% of Canada’s non-profit organizations. This unpaid workforce provides invaluable expertise, energy, and enthusiasm alongside increased competition, helping to attract and retain the most devoted volunteers, especially those with good connections. A strong volunteer program(http://www.imaginecanada.ca/blog/beyond-application-attracting-motivating-and-retaining-volunteers-today’s-landscape-0) helps your organization retain top volunteers, especially if the initial burst of enthusiasm wanes and workers face the temptation of new challenges elsewhere. Face these issues head on by staffing your non-profit with key issues in mind.
Volunteers who enjoy what they do and understand your organization’s mission remain more likely to stay with you through tough times. When running a recruitment campaign, make sure to outline your nonprofit’s mission and vision clearly, and define job roles in terms of the required skills and commitment and availability of training and development opportunities. Volunteer Canada’s Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement provides a ready-made set of values, guiding principles, and standards of practice to help you develop the best approach to recruiting, integrating, and retaining your volunteers.
Similar to bringing in new employees, on-boarding new volunteers requires providing a thorough introduction to your organization’s policies and practices. Introduce them to key people and show them around the facilities, including the canteens and restrooms. Allocate security badges, entry codes, passwords, and a work space with the tools and technology they need to function effectively in their roles, and equip them with any uniforms or special protective clothing. Finally, carry out any screening, and make sure volunteers have a full health and safety briefing and any training needed to perform their roles without risk to themselves or others.
Your volunteer program needs to ensure existing management and staff understand the roles of the volunteers, how they contribute to your organization’s mission, and the support you expect them to provide. This might involve training your staff to foster engagement and work effectively with volunteers to create a one team approach.
Growing Your Organization
As your volunteers set to work, make sure they have appropriate supervision, support, and access to training that keeps them up to date with procedures and operational guidance for new technology or equipment. Include them in briefing meetings and newsletters so they continue to feel an connected with your organization. Make time to formally review individual progress and identify areas where they may need additional support, and seek feedback on a regular basis. Many of your volunteers bring a wealth of experience with them from previous jobs, making them a vital resource to tap for new perspectives and valuable insights.
While you can’t pay your volunteers, formal and informal recognition of their value to the organization and the community it serves can motivate performance. Actions such as a letter of thanks, a feature in a staff newsletter, a personal expression of gratitude from senior management, and invitations to staff events and celebrations cost little but help display appreciation for your volunteers.
Evaluate the effectiveness of your program and gain feedback from your volunteers as to what works and what doesn’t to gain some insight into improving your practices. You invest a lot of time and energy on-boarding your volunteers, making it important to your best interests to retain them and maximize use of the skills they provide.
Despite the most valiant retention efforts, volunteers come and go. This makes a good succession plan that keeps systems and structures functioning following the departure of one or more key volunteers essential to your non-profit organization.
If you haven’t already done so, get a copy of The Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement, and see how your non-profit ranks. If you follow the Code’s guidelines, you have excellent opportunities to retain your valuable unpaid workforce, harnessing their enthusiasm and expertise to the benefit of your non-profit and the wider community.