Volunteers are of huge value to nonprofit organizations. Recent studies estimate that about a hundred million people volunteer each year with an annual value in the range of $150 billion. Not only do volunteers help to save money, but they can provide better service to clients, increase contact with the greater community, make available better expertise, and reduce costs of services.
From the early days of America, volunteers have pitched in to treat community maladies and needs. Hospitals, orphanages, schools and local fire companies (to name a very few) were the result of a civic rallying around a cause. That civic concern and community coalescence continues today in religious charities, Habitat for Humanities, hospitals, libraries, schools and colleges, Hospices, and YMCAs (to name just a very few). While we’re sometimes leery of volunteers, the truth is that nonprofit organizations would not exist if it were not for the volunteers.
Let’s look at three areas of activity in which volunteers help our organizations—governance, programming and fund development.
Volunteers who serve on boards of directors and their committees are the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations. While the Executive Director takes care of day to day matters, volunteer directors take responsibility for policy making, for assuring that the organization has adequate funding, and for meeting any legal challenges that might arise.
We often talk about the attributes of a good board member; we’re looking for a combination of several of the following: wealth, wisdom, work, and “wow” (the influence factor). With an appropriate mix of these attributes, boards will be in a position of strength to act on their strategic plans. If an organization is preparing for a capital campaign, then adding more wealth or wow to the board makes sense. If instituting new programming is in the future, then leaning the board toward wisdom and work would be productive. A board that polishes its composition will be motivated and strengthened.
Trained volunteers can be invaluable in helping to deliver services to clients. They reduce costs through their work and can often provide better services to clients since they serve because of their passion for the organization’s mission. Many volunteers also bring expertise or experience to the organization that is free—pro bono legal or accounting services, for instance.
Other volunteers provide contact with parts of the community that an organization generally doesn’t interact with (volunteers will talk about your organization with their friends and colleagues—the good and the bad), and chief among them would be the volunteer who coordinates volunteers! For each volunteer there is the reward of helping others, of serving the cause. When properly directed, volunteers are a treasured asset, real gems in delivering services to those in need.
While fundraising is a chief responsibility of the board, there are other ways that volunteers can help to advance the organization. As part of a development committee, volunteers can serve as prospectors, mining their networks for nuggets you want to pan out. They also can be the go-getters who will put on special events such as auctions, galas, or raffles. Others can seek to get better media coverage.
For the best results, it’s important to think through a recruitment strategy to get the right volunteers serving with you, similar to massaging the board’s composition. With a clear idea of what needs to be accomplished and with direction from staff, volunteers can expand your horizons, help you to meet people of influence and affluence that you wouldn’t otherwise, bring skills and expertise that will increase revenues, and become new and dear friends. This is particularly helpful when making plans for a capital campaign.
As a leader in an organization, you make the difference between mere success and great success. John Maxwell, author of many books on leadership, says “Leadership…has to do with casting vision and motivating people.” Those people in many cases are the volunteers who have sought you out and you have sought out. The degree to which they add value to your work and mission is dependent on how they are assigned tasks, trained, supervised, evaluated, and loved. Celebrate with your volunteers in all areas of activity! You’ll have lots of fun doing it.