Volunteers and the Volunteer Coordinator

Volunteers are the lifeblood of every nonprofit organization. Without people who are willing and able to give freely of their time and expertise because they believe in the mission of the group, the vast majority of nonprofits would either cease to exist or be so limited in their ability to fulfill their mission that they might as well close their doors.

Always remember that volunteers are helping because they want to do so; they will leave if they feel their work is unappreciated or if the environment is no longer comfortable. Volunteers should feel comfortable approaching the volunteer coordinator with concerns, and the volunteer coordinator should make it a priority to keep the lines of communication open.

In the beginning, as you are getting the group up and functioning, everyone will be volunteering their time. In time, as the group begins to mature and revenue increases, you may be able to compensate people in the lead roles. Until then, volunteers will be responsible for running a large part of the organization.

Volunteer Coordinator

A volunteer coordinator needs to be the classic “people person” who honestly enjoys working with all types of people and understands your organization and its mission. She is often a member of the public's first point of contact when he calls or drops by offering to help, so an immediate feeling of welcoming and support will go a long way in recruitment and retention of your volunteer base.

In the early, formative stages, the volunteer coordinator's first responsibility will be to get people registered and entered into your general database. The registration form should include questions about the person's particular interests or skills. Then the volunteer coordinator must match those skill sets with the needs of the group. To allow for scheduling, she must communicate regularly with everyone involved in operations in order to determine what the need for volunteers will be on any given day.

The core tasks of any volunteer coordinator will include:

  • Always seeking new sources for volunteer recruitment.

  • Preparing material describing volunteer responsibilities.

  • Interviewing, selecting, and placing qualified individuals in the organization.

  • Planning and implementing volunteer training programs.

  • Keeping accurate records of volunteer service time.

  • Keeping volunteers motivated and enthusiastic.

  • Volunteer Recognition

    The key to keeping the best volunteers actively engaged in the organization is always to thank them and recognize their contributions for what they are — essential. Having a party to stuff and mail a few thousand envelopes may seem boring, but when everyone remembers why those envelopes are going out — to bring in more people to make the organization grow — the value of their time becomes clear.

    Organize special events from time to time. They do not need to be elaborate, but they must take place. Establishing the bond between the organization and its volunteers is one of the benefits of the nonprofit sector, and it is too often overlooked.

    About Special Events

    Getting involved in existing events or starting one on your own is one of the best ways to let your community know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and encourage others to join you. As a nonprofit organization, you may qualify for reduced fees to participate in existing events, so make sure to tell the event coordinators a little bit about your group. Don't be shy!

    Producing any type of event on your own is going to require a lot of work, so take a good look at your current capacity before committing the group to something that you may not have people to see through.

    Examples of special events you may want to consider are:

  • Craft/street fairs. They usually have an area set aside for nonprofit groups.

  • Special events at your local mall or shopping center. Ask for the mall's Calendar of Events and see what is appropriate for you.

  • Business organizations' meet and greets. These are usually held monthly. They will always welcome new organizations as guests until you are able to join.

  • Open houses. Throw open your doors and invite the neighborhood in for beverages and conversation.

  • Film nights. Feature a movie associated with your mission.

  • Co-sponsorship of events produced by other organizations. This is a means of keeping your name visible and a way to be seen working with more established organizations.

  • Many organizations have a complete volunteer application on their websites, allowing people to fill in and e-mail it directly to the volunteer coordinator. This saves steps and eliminates the delay between an individual thinking about volunteering and actually doing it.

    Volunteer Recruitment

    Maintaining a good, strong volunteer pool is not always easy. People come and go. You will lose some of the best and need to find replacements with similar skills. The organization's website and newsletter are among the best tools to use regularly.

    Preparing notices for submission to the newsletter will keep the need for volunteers on people's minds and will return good results. If you are having trouble getting good volunteers from your existing membership, ask the local service organizations. Many of these organizations try to place their members into volunteer positions in local nonprofits as a way of contributing to the community. Likewise, many larger businesses have in-house programs to help their employees locate volunteer opportunities. These options generally bring out highly skilled, motivated individuals who will be delighted at the opportunity to work with your group.

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