Growing and Developing Your Volunteer Program

Scaling Your Volunteer Program: The Essentials

Could your organization’s volunteer program use a boost? With over 60 million volunteers in the United States, there are plenty of people who are ready to help! Scaling your volunteer program is a great way to introduce more people to your organization while receiving budget-friendly support for your goals.

At VolunteerHub, we know that developing a thriving volunteer program isn’t as simple as gathering a group of people and handing out a few hammers and paintbrushes. The right program framework can build a foundation for recruiting and retaining dozens (or even hundreds) of volunteers who share your organization’s drive for community improvement.

In this post, we highlight ways you can ensure your volunteer program flourishes throughout the years.

Design a Well-Structured Volunteer Program

The key to scaling your volunteer program is to first create a robust framework for the program, ideally before any volunteers join your organization.

Spending some time on your program’s framework upfront will keep your volunteers’ work aligned with your mission down the road. Additionally, an effectively designed volunteer program will make attracting and retaining volunteers a breeze.

A well-structured volunteer program outlines:

  • Program goals
  • Volunteer recruitment options
  • Volunteer duties
  • Budget considerations
  • Volunteer management systems
  • Program assessment plans

Zero-In on Your Volunteer Program Goals

The first step to developing and subsequently growing your volunteer program is honing in on its goal. Why do you need volunteers? How will their work contribute to your organization’s overall mission?

Let’s take a look at some volunteer program goal examples. You can use these to guide you when crafting goals for your own program.

  • Our volunteer program will help the organization accomplish its mission to educate teens about the dangers of smoking. Volunteers will mentor at-risk students and train them to be health leaders in their schools.
  • Our volunteer program will help the organization accomplish its mission to reduce food waste in our community. Volunteers will collect compostable food scraps from residents and add them to the organization’s compost bins.

Having a highly focused goal makes volunteer program scaling easier because it gives your organization and volunteers a clear snapshot of the program. Volunteers won’t accidentally join your program expecting to be companions for the elderly when your organization actually needs support for fundraising. When your goal isn’t clear, your nonprofit runs the risk of losing support.

Identify Key Volunteer Recruitment Sources

The next step for creating a highly structured volunteer program is to compile a list of recruitment sources. This list will make scaling your volunteer program easier in the future. By dedicating a little extra time to curating your recruitment sources in your program’s infancy, you’ll have a constant flow of volunteers at any time of the year.

Volunteers can come from virtually anywhere, but focusing your recruitment efforts on the right sources can exponentially drive growth. For example, if your organization needs volunteers to support its diabetes awareness initiative, one of your major recruitment sites could be the nursing program at the local university. Another recruitment source could be retired healthcare workers. You’ll probably have better luck with focusing on these sources than, say, local youth groups.

Once you have a list of your prime recruitment sources, determine how you will keep an active communication channel with each of them. Perhaps someone at the university is willing to periodically pass on the names of interested volunteers to your organization. Maybe you’ll hold a quarterly recruitment event to garner interest on campus instead.

Define Volunteer Roles

Another important program component that entices volunteers to register and stay with your nonprofit is crafting accurate volunteer role descriptions. People are more hesitant to join an organization when they’re not entirely clear on what they would be doing.

If you tell potential volunteers they’ll be “assisting your nonprofit’s conservation efforts in some capacity,” they won’t know if they’re going to be filing farm equipment invoices or tilling the soil for community gardens. That uncertainty will keep many people from pursuing volunteer opportunities.

Brainstorm within your organization and note down all the possible volunteer roles you will need in the near future. This list may change over time, but focusing on recurring opportunities is a good start.

In the previous case, a more defined list of volunteer roles for a conservation group might look like:

  • Office support volunteer – helps with everyday clerical tasks such as answering phones, filing, and data entry
  • Spring planting volunteer – plants seeds and transplants seedlings in multiple community gardens starting in mid-March
  • Harvest volunteer – periodically harvests ripe fruits and vegetables from community gardens
  • Elementary school educator volunteer – facilitates classroom presentations on what conservation means and how kids can help

Determine Your Volunteer Budget

How does a budget factor into your volunteer program? While it’s true volunteers don’t get paid, you’ll still need to allocate money to your volunteer program.

For instance, if you plan on recruiting volunteers for a roadside cleanup day, you’ll need supplies for the project. The list might include:

  • Trash bags
  • Gloves
  • Garbage pickers
  • Safety vests
  • Water and snacks
  • First aid kits
  • Gas to fill the vehicles that will transport the collected garbage

Nothing will squash volunteer program growth like a large group of hungry volunteers who don’t have the supplies to do their jobs!

When you’re creating your budget, you’ll need to consider more than project supplies. You may need to consider the cost of volunteer uniforms, training, and end-of-year celebrations. You may also need to budget for additional employee salaries, such as bringing on a paid volunteer coordinator or a paid van driver to transport volunteers to a work site.

A huge budget isn’t necessary, but being prepared for the many incidentals a volunteer program can incur will keep your organization running smoothly.

Use a Volunteer Management System

To keep program costs to a minimum, consider using a volunteer management system (VMS) such as VolunteerHub. This system lets organizations automate administrative tasks including volunteer tracking and registration. It also makes creating and assigning volunteer roles quick and easy.

A VMS is ideal for expanding your volunteer program because it shoulders some of the tedious tasks volunteer coordinators usually deal with. Volunteers can register with your organization themselves and sign online liability waivers, eliminating these steps from your coordinator’s workload. Additionally, all your volunteers’ contact details will be kept in a convenient and confidential location, making communication stress-free.

Reassess Your Volunteer Program

Once you’ve developed your volunteer program’s initial framework, be flexible in making tweaks here and there. If an anticipated recruitment source isn’t bringing in the number of volunteers you’d hoped, don’t be afraid to adjust accordingly.

It’s never a bad idea to schedule a specific time to reassess your volunteer program’s efficacy. You can do this whenever you’d like, but having an in-depth reflection session at least twice a year can help your organization avoid common pitfalls when managing volunteers.

During the assessment period, ask yourself questions to gauge how well your current program’s structure is working:

  • Are we meeting the volunteer goals we set out for ourselves earlier in the year?
  • Are we hitting our target number of volunteers?
  • What are some opportunities for streamlining our volunteer program?
  • Do our volunteers seem happy with their roles?
  • Are our volunteers being utilized to their full potential?
  • Which parts of our program are working well and which can use improvement?

Engage Your Organization’s Volunteers

Once your organization has a strong volunteer program up and running, don’t forget to keep your volunteers engaged. They are essential to the program’s success! You can communicate with them in several ways. You could try one-on-one when they come in for volunteer shifts or you can send out an anonymous digital survey asking for their thoughts. Another idea is to keep a suggestion box near their sign-in area so they can drop a quick thought on their way in or out from your site.

You can always ask your volunteers for their ideas about how to grow your volunteer base. You may be surprised to learn they have community connections you didn’t know about!

Engaging your volunteers can also help you keep an eye on morale. You might learn volunteers are experiencing problems you were unaware of (perhaps one of the volunteer sites doesn’t have enough parking, for instance).

This engagement drives positive word-of-mouth referrals to your volunteer program. These recommendations are a surefire way of scaling any volunteer program. The happier your volunteers are, the more likely they are to talk about their experiences with your organization. Their friends, families, and coworkers may want to join, too!

The post Growing and Developing Your Volunteer Program appeared first on Nonprofit Hub.

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