Ways to increase your volunteer numbers

A sea of volunteers

What could you do if you had a veritable sea of volunteers?

If you had an almost unlimited supply of people who wanted to help your cause, how would your mission grow? How much closer could you get to your vision, no matter how impossible that vision may seem right now? Then ask yourself, what’s stopping you?

Having a multitude of volunteers doesn’t have to be just wishful thinking. I know the reasons popping up in your mind. “I don’t have time to manage the volunteers I do have.” “We’re in a rural area and there just aren’t that many people to call on.” “People don’t seem to want to volunteer anymore.”

And these are valid facts. However, there’s a quote I love by former U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell. “Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision,” he said. Every problem has a solution. It may take some creative thinking to find it, but it’s there.

The hardest part to solving a challenge is changing how we look at it in the first place.

Not enough time to manage your current volunteers? Could you find the time to train and manage just one? Well, then train that one to lead others. Build a chain of command, where you oversee a small handful of senior level volunteers who each oversee their own handful of less senior volunteers, who, in turn, oversee more junior volunteers.

Do you think that the CEO of Toyota manages the factory workers? Of course not, that would be impossible.

How do you do it? Take a look at the volunteers you currently have. Who among them do the others look up to? Who knows the program, or one aspect of the program, inside out? Train those few volunteers to manage others. Once they’re comfortable in the role, have that handful look at the volunteers who report to them, and have them pick out a few who have leadership qualities. They can then be trained – by the volunteers you trained – to manage even more. And so on. You can even have a volunteer create standardized leadership training to be delivered by the volunteers.

I know, it will take some up-front planning and work but keep thinking about the difference your organization could make if you had a sea of volunteers.

“It’s fine and dandy if you live in city where there are hundreds of thousands of people to draw from. I live in a town with a population of 5,000. You can’t make a sea of volunteers out of 5,000 people,” some may say.

No, you can’t. But you can still have a sea of volunteers. By the way, I grew up in Topley, B.C. a community of about 100 people, if you count the cars going by on the highway, so I know what you’re dealing with.

Again, it’s about changing how you look at things. No, you can’t create a sea of volunteers with small populations in rural areas. But who said you could only recruit from your community? Many of the tasks organizations need done can be done remotely. Most admin tasks, all the grant-writing and marketing tasks and social media too.

Tutors and instructors can be remote. Even board members can be recruited from other communities. Yes, board members may need to have a knowledge of the community, but just about everyone in a small town can produce a list of people they know who’ve moved away but still have ties to home. You can leverage that. Ask me how, I know.

Once you’ve determined all the tasks that can possibly be done remotely – and there are probably more than you realize if you are willing to be flexible and creative – you will find that even small communities can pull together a surprisingly large number of volunteers. If not a sea, at least a decent sized lake.

All of this assumes, of course, that people are willing to volunteer in the first place. And they are. Don’t be mislead by the doomsayers, or even by the dwindling number of volunteers in your organization. The desire to make our world a better place is just as strong, or even stronger, than it ever was. The difference isn’t in the number of potential volunteers, it’s in the way people want to volunteer, and what they’re looking for from their volunteering experience.

People are demanding more flexibility and choice in where, when and how they volunteer. Volunteer programs that are still operating in the same way as they have always done will see a decrease in volunteers. But not because no one cares any more. Your volunteer program needs to find a way to satisfy the requirements of a new type of volunteer. One way is to offer a “volunteer buffet”. (Check out my earlier article for details on that.)

The more you can offer a volunteer, rather than focusing on what they can offer you, the more likely it is that people will be attracted to your organization.

What impact could you make with a sea of volunteers? Every problem has a solution. And every organization can develop a sea of volunteers. Stop dreaming about the impact you could make, and start solving those challenges.

If you need help, let me know.

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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