A thorough check-up of your volunteer program is vital

Audit volunteer programs

The word “audit” is a dirty word for a lot of people, but really, it just means “to review methodically and in detail”.

It’s something we should be doing with our volunteer programs annually but it is rare that we set time aside to work on our program, rather, we’re than just in it.

It takes stepping back and viewing it with an objective eye, seeing the big picture of why we have volunteers, what we have them doing and analyzing whether or not the program is actually furthering the organization’s mission.

Even the best volunteer program needs to be reviewed regularly. In fact, the best ones are, otherwise they wouldn’t be the best.

It doesn’t take much to audit your volunteer program.

Start by reviewing your mission statement. Are there parts of your volunteer program that aren’t really helping to achieve it? Be honest. It’s easy to find excuses for doing something even if it doesn’t help the stated mission.

I once worked with an organization whose mandate was to adopt out abandoned rabbits. One of the tasks it had volunteers do was to take a few rabbits to a local senior’s care home to give the residents a chance to cuddle a bunny once a week.

It was a wonderful thing to do, and perhaps there was a real need for it. It didn’t, however, help increase adoption rates. It didn’t further organization’s mission. It would have been better to take the animals to a local elementary school, where there would be people who might be able to adopt them. Another organization could be in charge of providing experiences for seniors.

This is where stepping back and being objective really helps.

Next, if you don’t already know, think about what an ideal volunteer program would look like for your organization.

How many volunteers would be ideal? What would they do? What skills would they have? How long would they stay? How much time would you be spending on training, on-boarding, managing, etc?

The clearer your picture of what you want, the easier it will be to get it.

When you audit your volunteer program, compare what you have now to that ideal. Where are the gaps?

Look at each of the challenges you’re facing and narrow them down to exactly what the cause is in each case.

Say, for instance, you don’t have enough volunteers. You need to investigate whether it’s because not enough people are applying, not enough are making it through the application process or through the training or whether the volunteers just aren’t sticking around. It’s the same problem but with widely different causes.

If you look at the lack of volunteers and just start recruiting more, without looking into the reasons, chances are you won’t see much improvement. You may hit on the correct cause right away, but it will just be luck.

By doing an audit, you’ll be able to pinpoint exactly why a problem is occurring and your time and effort will be spent on actions that will make the biggest impact.

Doing an audit of your volunteer program takes time, I know, and few of us have much to spare. However, you are likely to save time in the long run. You won’t be spinning your wheels trying to solve a problem by tackling the wrong cause and your program will run more smoothly and efficiently.

Take the time. You won’t regret it.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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