Could your nonprofit use a few more hands on deck? Volunteers can be a great resource and can serve to increase your nonprofit's direct connection with the community. But, first, use this handy checklist to make sure your nonprofit has done its advance work and is ready to make volunteering an experience that people will want to sign up for -- and return to again and again.
- Identify what your organization needs help with. Write down every task you and others in your nonprofit can think of, from high-level work (such as researching and writing grant proposals, designing a website, taking photographs, or assisting teachers) to basic stuff (data entry, dog kennel cleaning, or photocopying).
- Combine the tasks into named positions that will be both meaningful and interesting. Making everyone a generic "volunteer" won't help their sense of purpose. Instead, give them cool-sounding titles. In creating and naming the positions, understand that many volunteers are hoping to work directly with your nonprofit clients or feel otherwise directly connected to your cause. (Can you create any new positions to make the most of this opportunity for community involvement?) If possible, also give every volunteer a share of the dull, mindless work.
- Write up volunteer job descriptions. Getting job descriptions down on paper will help volunteers not only understand their role, but appreciate that you take their role seriously and are treating them as professionals. If possible, explain what opportunities the volunteers will have for stepping into greater responsibilities after proven good performance. For help, see Nolo's article, Writing and Using Job Descriptions.
- Designate a supervisor for each volunteer position. The supervisors should be prepared to train and manage volunteers, much as if they were regular staff -- including giving them feedback on performance and serving as references when the volunteers search for other work. Occasionally, the supervisor may even need to fire a volunteer.
- Create an information/orientation packet. This should include not only the job description and important information, such as door entry codes, but office rules such as personal use of phones and photocopiers, plus tips and guidelines for posting Facebook or other social networking entries concerning the volunteer's work with your group.
- Get the word out. Volunteers can be recruited from friends of existing staff and volunteers, via email and your social networking pages, from local schools, service organizations, faith-based communities, and senior centers, and from online services such as www.volunteermatch.org or www.idealist.org.
- Make sure your website explains volunteer opportunities. This is such an important part of getting the word out that we've given it a separate checklist entry. Too many nonprofits' websites explain how to donate, but say nothing about volunteering -- despite it being a great way to engage with supporters. Be sure to spell out what the volunteer positions include, what benefits volunteers might gain (more on that below), and how to get in touch. While you're at it, include an account of one of your existing volunteer's great experience working with you.
- Decide what perks to offer. Volunteers love to feel appreciated and enjoy getting treated like insiders, and you can help that by offering them perks -- like free admission to some of your events, a T-shirt with your group's logo, free parking or meals, and reminders of the skills they'll be taught and the great people they might meet.
- Check references and background -- evenhandedly. Some states' laws require nonprofits to do a formal background check -- including fingerprint screening -- for volunteers who will be working with children, the elderly, disabled persons, or other vulnerable populations. Check your state's law. In any case, you'll need a screening policy for all volunteers, perhaps at least a reference check. You can hire a service to do background checks for you. Don't pick and choose who to screen, or you risk complaints about discrimination.
- Prepare a training program. This should cover both the volunteers' job responsibilities and basic office policies. If someone other the the volunteer's supervisor -- perhaps even another volunteer -- would be the best trainer, have that person handle trainings, possibly on a group basis. Consider whether some volunteers need extra information on some parts of the job. For example, young people may need a tutorial on phone manners before you let them loose on callers or donors.
- Plan how you'll celebrate volunteers' achievements. It's never too early to start planning an annual volunteer party or thinking about other ways to regularly and emphatically thank volunteers (such as newsletter features or a special table at an upcoming event).
Now you're ready to bring in volunteers -- but keeping them happy is also important. Learn how to make your nonprofit a hit with volunteers in Nolo's article Nonprofit Volunteers: Top Five Tips to Keep Them Coming.