Publicly, nonprofit folks in charge of recruiting and managing volunteers all say the same thing: volunteers are essential to making our programs work. Their enthusiasm is infectious and the manpower they provide is indispensable. We our volunteers!
Here’s what they don’t tell you: managing volunteers is hard. Recruiting the right amount of volunteers (not too many, not too few) can be difficult. When the volunteer “team” is too large, people stand around bored and feel unappreciated. When the team is too small, people are exhausted and never want to do “it” (whatever “it” is) again. And not all volunteers share the same passion for the project. Some volunteers jump right in with an enthusiasm that makes you want to cry in appreciation. Others stand around bored and listless, waiting for the bus to take them back to work/school/home, making you want to cry in despair. “Please, please, please sweep faster/talk less/pack more/etc!” These types of volunteers make the project harder, not easier.
But the biggest hurdle is the constant recruiting and training that is necessary for an effective, engaged volunteer force. This is no different than hiring new employees. Recruiting and training takes time, which is the thing most nonprofit folks lack the most (besides money to effectively administer their programs). While some of the larger nonprofits have dedicated volunteer coordinators, most of the smaller ones divvy up volunteer recruitment and training amongst an already overtaxed staff.
The Monogamous Volunteer
Here’s what nonprofits – of all sizes – love the most: a long-term volunteering relationship with a local business or school. This relationship minimizes the time required to recruit and train, maximizes the effectiveness of the volunteer force, and deepens the commitment and passion of the volunteers for the mission at hand. Imagine this: a company with at least 15-30 employees committed to just a couple nonprofits, who understand the nonprofits’ mission, and who – with each volunteer event – gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the work they are doing and the community they serve. The experience itself becomes more meaningful as time goes on, increasing their commitment and enthusiasm to the cause. For the nonprofit, it becomes easier and easier to work with this company since their employee volunteers already understand the nonprofit and can be assigned even more interesting projects as they gain experience and insight.
So when considering which nonprofits to support, try to select an organization with whom you share similar goals and values…a nonprofit that you can see supporting (with employee volunteers, financially through donations or event/program sponsorships, or both) for many years to come.
There’s a term for it: monogamous volunteering. (Go ahead: I give free rein to using this term in your corporate giving program. It’ll spice up your brochures!) It’s so much easier and satisfying than trolling the “Volunteers Needed” page whenever your company feels the urge to do something for the community or sitting in your office, waiting for the phone to ring from a local nonprofit seeking your help.