Tips to turn staff into volunteer lovers

Accepting volunteers

Are you dealing with pushback from your organization’s staff around engaging volunteers? Would you like to turn staff into volunteer lovers?

I’m stating the obvious to you when I talk about the importance of volunteers to our programs. However, in many of the organizations I’ve seen over the years, other staff just aren’t as convinced. Many staff members don’t appreciate the impact volunteers make, don’t know how to utilize their skills effectively, or just can’t be bothered training them on more than the most menial of tasks.

This limits the impact that volunteers can make on your mission, and can cause conflict or frustration that may drive volunteers away. So, what can you do about it?

Here are five tips to turn staff into volunteer lovers:

Educate the staff about the impact that volunteers make

Get permission from your Executive Director or your Board to hold a presentation to staff on the benefits of volunteering. Provide stats, tell stories, present case studies. Show how the organization’s capacity is increased by the efforts of volunteers, and how it could be increased even more if volunteers were engaged in more ways.

Most paid personnel care deeply about the organization’s mission, and if they understand how much volunteers actually contribute, they will be more open to involving them.

Involve staff in the volunteer recruitment process

This will give them a sense of ownership and pride in the work of volunteers. Encourage them to help identify potential volunteers in their networks, or to participate in the interview process.

In one organization that I worked with, I prompted the entire staff to reach out to at least three people they knew to let them know about volunteer opportunities. The organization received a flood of applicants, and staff members became enthusiastic about the work that “their” volunteers did.

Encourage staff members to develop relationships with the volunteers

By building friendships between staff and volunteers, the staff will learn that volunteers are more than just envelope-stuffers. That they can bring in high-level skills and abilities.

For example, a staff member I know in a local organization discovered that one of the volunteers was a computer whiz, and he got her to build them a new website.

How do you build these relationships? One way is to mix the two workforces together at events; don’t allow all the paid staff to sit at one table and all the volunteers at another.

Instruct staff on how to engage volunteers

Working with volunteers may be a new experience for some staff members, and they may need to know how to effectively delegate, provide feedback, etc. Provide clear instructions and expectations. Let them know that it’s okay to delegate certain tasks, and give them a list of which task could be delegated and which are better done by paid staff

Explain the difference between giving instruction to other staff members and giving instruction to volunteers. Remind them that if they can effectively lead volunteers (who aren’t handcuffed by a paycheque) they can lead anyone! If necessary, create a handbook laying out instructions and any exceptions.

Prepare answers for people who push back

A lot of times I hear staff saying things like, “Why bother training a volunteer? I can do it faster myself. And besides, they won’t stick around, then I’ll just have to train someone else.”

It can be hard for some people to realize that taking two hours to train someone else to do a half-hour task is really a time-saver. Yes, it’s faster to do it themselves this time, and maybe for a few other times, but over the long term, it will take a massive amount of work off their shoulders. Sure, if the task is only done a few times a year it probably isn’t worth the effort, but if the task is one that’s done regularly, the time savings can add up quickly.

As for the volunteer not sticking around, if they are offered new learning opportunities and the chance to master new skills, they are more likely to commit to the organization for the long-term (check out Dan Pink’s TED talk “The Puzzle of Motivation”).

It’s important to turn staff into volunteer lovers. Having all staff members engaging and supporting volunteers can help everyone: the staff, the volunteers and the organization as a whole. The more that everyone works together, the faster and more effectively the mission can be accomplished.

And let’s face it, that’s why we’re all here.

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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