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Leaders’ passion, skills, and ideas fuel and drive nonprofits forward. They are an avenue for expanding the capacity of the organization leading to more services for families in need. Board members and agency leaders often begin as volunteers. There they have the opportunity to learn more about the need and the organization. But not every volunteer becomes a donor or engages to become an agency leader. Clearly not all volunteers have the capacity to become leaders. Which volunteers have the capacity and interest and what methods should the agency use to encourage them to become leaders? 

Engaging and motivating volunteers employ resources as well as build them. Growing organizations need volunteers to be much more than just a warm body stuffing envelopes.  A volunteer development plan defines the volunteer capacities and talents the nonprofit needs to grow. Organizations without a volunteer development plan are more likely to squander resources engaging volunteers that do not have the skills and connections the nonprofit needs. The plan identifies the tools the agency will use to find volunteers, creates various opportunities that encourage volunteers to become involved, and challenges volunteers to use their skills and connections to move the organization forward.

Strong nonprofit organizations rarely engage a new volunteer as a board member. Instead they begin engaging a volunteer by inviting them to participate in committees, events, or to facilitate client services. Since volunteers have other commitments, the plan outlines many opportunities with different demands on their time. These experiences encourage the organization and the volunteer to learn more about each other and explore whether the organization is a fit.

Begin creating the volunteer engagement plan by examining the organization’s strategic plan. The strategic plan outlines the organization’s goals of enhancing or expanding services. How can volunteers help? Where are the gaps in staffing? Volunteers have connections they can share with the nonprofits they serve. These connections can lead to introductions into a new community that needs the services the organization provides. Volunteers also provide specialized skills the organization can not afford, human resources, legal, etc. Nonprofits can invite these volunteers to mentor staff and examine the organization’s current policies and procedures.

Empower volunteers by asking them how they want to be involved, what they want to accomplish, and what they want to learn. Volunteers have many reasons to offer their skills. If their needs are not acknowledged, they can become the white elephant in the room. Recognizing their needs leads to fulfilled volunteers and a stronger connection with the organization.

Like staff positions, each volunteer opportunity is defined by a job description. The description identifies the skills the volunteer needs, as well as their duties and responsibilities. Volunteers want to be effective and want their work to mean something for the organization. By creating and providing a job description that includes numeric measurable outcomes, the organization communicates to the volunteer what is expected of them and why they are important.

Some organizations’ missions integrate volunteer engagement and leadership development into service delivery. We will discuss the advantages and challenges in the next post.

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