How to stop this growing trend from hurting your not-for-profit

'Informal' volunteers

According to Stats Canada, a large and quickly growing majority of volunteers are listed as “informal”.

In other words, they are people helping people without being associated with a specific organization. For example, someone who is passionate about helping animals may post articles on social media to raise awareness about the growing feral cat population in their community, but may not volunteer to help the SPCA with their spay and neuter clinics.

There is nothing wrong with that, of course – the more people helping the better–but with fewer and fewer people actually volunteering for organizations, the less real impact those organizations will have. It’s wonderful that people are aware of the feral cat population, but if the SPCA doesn’t have enough volunteers to run the clinics, the problem won’t go away.

If you’re with an organization that depends on its volunteers, you may find it harder and harder to achieve your mission as people turn away from the traditional ways of helping. So what do you do?

• First, take care of the volunteers that you do have. Show your appreciation, provide them with learning opportunities, make sure that they are getting what they need from volunteering with you. The happier they are, the longer they will stay and the fewer new volunteers you’ll need.

• Recruit those people who are helping informally. They are people who are passionate about your cause, and if you can offer them a tangible way to make a difference while still meeting their own needs, they may become your best volunteers.

• Leverage the informal volunteers. Even if they won’t specifically volunteer with your organization, they can help you. Create a list of those who regularly post about things that align with your mission and send them information that they can use. Tell them about events that you’re holding, or tips on how the general public can make a difference. Use them to raise awareness of your organization and the difference you make in your community.

The world is constantly changing, and that includes the world of volunteer management. Change with it. By staying aware of the trends in volunteering you can keep your organization thriving while others struggle.

If you’d like an assessment of your volunteer management strategy, book onto my calendar and we can set you up for success.

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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