Building a Culture of Accountable Volunteering
Whether it’s canvassing or leading programs, volunteers often carry out some of the most integral parts of a nonprofit's mission. Your volunteers make all the difference and they pitch in because they care about your cause. Here are some interesting statistics to consider. In recent years, approximately 25.3 percent of Americans volunteer, which is 62.8 million volunteers. They average 32.1 volunteer hours per person, per year, which comes to 7.9 billion hours of service, the equivalent of $184 billion according to a huffpost article. This illustrates how important a volunteer base is to many organizations. However, no matter how many volunteers your organization has, it is not beneficial unless you know how to build a culture of accountable volunteering and the volunteers also walk away with a sense of fulfillment that their time spent has made a positive impact.
Below are some Dos and Don’ts to create a culture where volunteers feel invested in and appreciated while also ensuring a level of accountability for the work is always present.
Don’t expect your volunteers to know the internal measures or policies of your organization or your values when it comes to working with your data. While a volunteer might be on the same page as your organization when it comes to the issues pertaining to your organization, it’s much harder to understand the culture of your organization’s work process.
Do share with your volunteers the rules of conduct when it comes to reviewing, editing and sharing the work they’re participating in. Taking the time to provide that information with volunteers before they begin a project is key. If you have specific privacy or security protocols, share them. If you have an open-door policy about questions or issues, state them. If there are certain sensitive information that requires consent, make that clear. Be sure to clearly define what their responsibilities are and also the limitations of their role as it relates to the project.
Don’t forget to make the time to get to know your volunteer’s interests or strengths. Placing a volunteer on a project that doesn’t suit their personality or skill sets can create project issues and also discourage volunteers.
Do have a system in place to 1. Learn as much about your volunteers as possible 2. A way to match volunteers to projects or roles needed by your organization. This may mean making volunteers fill out an in-depth questionnaire form or setting aside time to have a staff member connect with a volunteer to learn more about a potential volunteer.
Don’t expect your volunteers to know what their role in your organization and how the people structure looks like for your organization looks like. It’s not always easy to know who’s who and what role they play when you’re a volunteer. Again, this may be information that is obvious to you as staff member but that level of institutional knowledge is not always something you can gleam from a brief introduction or online bio.
Do share with your volunteer all the staff members and other volunteers that they’ll be interacting with as it relates to their work. This includes understanding what the responsibilities are of all team members. It’s especially important to make it clear who in your organization are decision makers and how receive sign offs and approvals.
Don’t expect your volunteers to come to you if they need support or need to remedy an issue. Sometimes, it may not be obvious that the task at hand needs another set of eyes or ears or that something they’ve been working on may be incorrect.
Do have an internal plan in place before a volunteer project begins that allows for a staff member familiar with the project to review the work on a timely basis. Make it a point to also check-in on a regular basis with your volunteers to share out best practices, places for improvement and also to report out milestones that they’ve helped achieve. We have found that depending on the complexity of the work, have a volunteer leadership ladder for folks to move across is helpful. This allows volunteers to build skills and knowledge over time and for staff to place the appropriate level of responsibility depending on where the volunteer is on that development ladder.
Don’t hand off projects to your volunteers without providing them resources needed for them to successfully accomplish their projects. Having a learn as you go attitude about your volunteers will ultimately lead to more work which undermines having volunteers in the first place.
Do provide easily accessible, culturally appropriate resources to your volunteers. This might mean creating written instructions, setting up a workshop or having a volunteer shadow a staff member or seasoned volunteer. We find that online resources are fabulous but nothing replaces being on-boarded to a project by a human( who’s helpful, friendly and gracious!). If you’re counting on volunteers, respect their time by investing in them and setting them up to succeed.
And finally, make sure to thank your volunteers who are often your fiercest supporters!
Are there any best practices about managing volunteers that aren’t listed above? Share them in the comment sections!
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Deanna-Marie Norcross is a Senior Associate at Mosaic Strategies. She specializes in helping clients use data for good and using online tools for digital organizing.