How can we create a successful volunteer program?
Volunteers can be terrific champions for your organization. And starting a volunteer program can be an exciting process. But often these programs grow haphazardly out of an immediate need to bring in additional resources. When this happens, problems can arise. Communication between staff and volunteers can break down, contributions to the organization’s mission may be missed, and volunteer retention may become a challenge.
Before you begin, create a solid foundation. People volunteer because they care about an issue, want to be around others who are of like mind, and want to do meaningful work. Keep this in mind as you develop your volunteer program. Plan thoroughly and you’ll have a better chance of success.
Develop a plan and get buy-in from staff and management.
Identify a need for your program. Define program goals that connect to organizational values, and develop a policy around volunteer involvement. Make sure to involve staff in planning and get full support from management to set your program up for success. Getting everyone to contribute will help you develop a strong model that clearly details how volunteers can take on needed tasks and support staff positions without slowing down overall productivity.
Treat volunteer recruitment seriously.
Create engaging recruitment messages to encourage volunteer participation. Develop thoughtful volunteer job descriptions to further identify needs and ensure expectations are clear. Be creative about where you look for volunteers. Reach out to friends and colleagues, partner associations and board members for referrals. And before you select a candidate, carefully evaluate each potential volunteer just as you would an employee.
Be ready for orientation and training.
Plan in advance how you’ll orient volunteers about the organization and train them for specific job functions. Train staff on how to communicate with volunteers and explain the chain of command. Proper training and orientation will clarify expectations and help your volunteers prepare to dive in.
Coordinate volunteer involvement and monitor progress.
You’ll want to designate a single individual to manage volunteers, track their progress, and monitor interaction between staff, volunteers and constituents. Having volunteers report to a single individual helps keep communication lines open and reduces the likelihood that expectations are not met.
If problems arise, be ready to adjust. Document your progress to help you do so.
Encourage participation and adjust strategies as needed to retain good volunteers.
Provide regular feedback and program results to staff and volunteers to boost morale and encourage new ideas for volunteer involvement. And remember, recognition is key to retaining volunteers. Volunteer retention saves time and effort and allows you to focus on program goals over recruiting. So look for low-cost ways to thank volunteers for a job well done.