Natalie Garcia

5 Ways to Better Manage Your Nonprofit Volunteers

Managing volunteers can be a delicate situation. On one hand, their generosity in donating their time is already amazing, but are you maximizing their skills and abilities to best support your organization? Are they fully engaged in your volunteer opportunities? Do they want to help more, but aren’t sure how? 

By aligning your needs with their abilities and strengths, you’ll be able to feel more confident in placing your trust in your volunteer team through a few simple methods. 

1. Identify which type of volunteer they are

You can do this by meeting with them, or by asking them when they sign up to volunteer to self-identify as one of the below categories. They may fall into more than one, but by encouraging them to work in the spirit of one of these types on behalf of your nonprofit, you’ll have a great chance of an effective structure for your volunteer program:

  • Organizers. Great leaders who are accustomed to activating and inspiring groups of people. These folks will be able to be handed a task, can assemble the right team, and are your master delegators that aren’t afraid to make decisions on behalf of the org. 

  • Do-ers. They may not be as sure of what to do or how they can best help, but with a little bit of instruction and a lot of delivering on their promises, they’ll take a task and instructions, and get it done on time. 

  • Ambassadors. They’re the effective networkers with a ton of connections. They understand and believe in your mission and can help you recruit the Do-ers, Organizers and Teachers. 

  • Teachers. They love researching and sharing their findings with others. They can bring new ideas and new efficiencies to your processes and structure. They excel in showing and empowering others through coaching and mentoring. 

2. Set quarterly SMART goals with your volunteers, and let them be a part of that process

SMART goals = Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time Bound

  • Revisit them each month with the volunteers to see if they are on track and feeling positive about the outcomes.

  • Have a post-quarter review to discuss wins and possible improvements. 

  • Allow them to give input so they feel greater ownership in making things happen. 

3. Give them autonomy to own projects and tasks

As difficult as it is, you really don’t have to do everything yourself. Know when to delegate something. Remember that time spent training someone now is time you have to focus on higher-level strategy and development later. Rather than DIY-ing everything:

  • Ask a Do-er to pick something up or drop something off for your org. They’re happy to do it and will feel useful. 

  • Ask an Organizer to take ownership of a small or medium-size project. They may not run it the exact same way you do, but they’ll see the project through.

  • Ask an Ambassador to host their own recruiting event, or stakeholder and donor appreciation event. They love talking about your org and have more energy and focus than you might to put toward making everyone feel truly appreciated. 

  • Ask a Teacher to research and propose a new method, software solution or way of handling a regular process in your org or volunteer program with the goal of increasing efficiency or productivity. 

4. Celebrate the wins they’ve helped you achieve

It’s easy to accomplish one thing and feel like you have to immediately jump into the next thing, but taking a few moments to write a personal note or email to individuals and teams who deliver for you on time will go a long way in retaining those committed individuals. 

  • Check out Kudoboard as a great and inexpensive way to collaborate on a thank you for someone.  

  • Be specific in your shout outs during your quarterly post-mortem and ask others to give shout outs to team members as well - someone may have been key in getting something done that you didn’t even know about. 

5. Don’t be afraid to redirect if necessary

Yes, they are volunteers, but they want to do a great job and would rather do things the way your org needs them done than to feel like they don’t have a place on the team because they aren’t being included. 
  • Consider enlisting an Organizer or a Teacher to tackle the issue. If the request is based in process, you can rely on them to provide peer-based coaching that will likely be well received if coming from another volunteer.

  • Lead with gratitude, and thank them for their efforts, and kindly let them know you prefer things done in a different way, and you’re happy to find them support to learn and grow in their role. Always be sure to reiterate that you are grateful and happy to be working with them.

  • Difficult conversations are best done face-to-face, rather than via email, so take the extra moment to try to connect with them via video-conferencing whenever possible. 

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