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Engaging Volunteers to Maximize Organizational Impact

Nonprofits play a critical role in addressing social challenges and improving the lives of individuals and communities. However, with limited resources and staff, it can be challenging to achieve our missions and create meaningful impact. That's where volunteers come in - they can bring valuable skills, expertise, and energy to nonprofit organizations, allowing them to expand their reach and accomplish more. In fact, according to the 2021 Volunteering in America Report by the US Census Bureau and Americorps Research, 60.7M adults (23.2 percent) formally volunteered 4.1B hours. The economic value of this work was estimated at $122.9B.

However, effectively engaging volunteers is not always easy. Nonprofit organizations need to develop effective volunteer management strategies to maximize the impact of their volunteer programs. In this blog post, we will discuss some key strategies for nonprofit organizations to leverage volunteer engagement and increase their impact.

Group of people wearing shirts that say "Volunteer" on them putting their hands together

1. Develop a Volunteer Management Plan

The first step to effectively engaging volunteers is to develop a comprehensive volunteer management plan. This plan should outline the organization's goals and objectives, the roles and responsibilities of volunteers, and the resources required to support volunteer engagement. The plan should also include policies and procedures for recruitment, screening, training, and recognition of volunteers.

2. Recruit and Retain the Right Volunteers

To maximize the impact of their volunteer programs, nonprofit organizations need to recruit volunteers who are the right fit for their mission and programs. This means identifying the skills, experience, and interests required to support the organization's work and designing recruitment strategies to attract volunteers with these attributes. You can be transparent about your needs when recruiting volunteers and match tasks to people’s skill sets and preferences. To retain volunteers, it is essential to solicit their feedback on what they find most engaging and meaningful so that you can incorporate those activities as much as possible.

As you build relationships with your volunteers, you can encourage and trust them to take on additional projects. In fact, the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation recommends thi., “Respected, competent, and skilled volunteers should be entrusted with leadership responsibilities. These volunteers can help to lead others in service delivery or assume management duties such as recruiting additional volunteers at community events. Volunteers with leadership potential should be identified and empowered to take on larger roles.”

3. Provide Training and Support

To ensure that volunteers are effective in their roles, nonprofits need to provide them with the necessary training and support. This includes providing orientation sessions, on-the-job training, and ongoing support from staff and other volunteers. Nonprofits should also provide volunteers with access to tools and resources that enable them to work efficiently and effectively. For some volunteers, working with your organization may be an excellent opportunity to gain experience that they can put on their resume, so teaching valuable skills can also assist in volunteer recruitment. All together, taking time to welcome, train, and support volunteers will not only help them to perform their best, but makes them feel valued and connected to the mission of the organization, which in turn keeps volunteers engaged.

4. Establish Clear Communication Channels

Effective communication is also essential to volunteer engagement. Nonprofits should establish clear communication channels with their volunteers, including regular updates on organizational activities and volunteer opportunities. The experience of signing up to volunteer should be simple - the more steps in the process, fewer people will complete it and they may choose to spend their time volunteering somewhere else. This basic psychology has been backed by plenty of research, “we're biased towards perceiving anything challenging to be less appealing.” Once volunteers are signed up, they should have access to staff members who can answer their questions and provide support when needed.

5. Recognize and Celebrate Volunteers

Finally, recognizing and celebrating the contributions of volunteers is essential to sustaining a successful volunteer program. Nonprofits should acknowledge the hard work and dedication of their volunteers through formal recognition programs, such as volunteer of the month awards or annual volunteer recognition events. Part of this recognition should include clear data or examples of the impact that these volunteers have had such as the number of actions taken or stakeholders reached. These activities can help volunteers feel valued and motivated to continue their contributions to the organization. For the most engaging celebrations, ask volunteers how they would like to be recognized.

In conclusion, nonprofit organizations have the potential to achieve significant impact through effective volunteer engagement strategies. By developing a comprehensive volunteer management plan, recruiting and retaining the right volunteers, providing training and support, establishing clear communication channels, and recognizing and celebrating volunteer contributions, nonprofits can leverage the power of volunteers to achieve their missions and create lasting change.

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