Volunteer Programs – a short course

Your first target is sustainability. Otherwise, you’re on a never-ending uphill climb.

A sustainable system cares for and feeds itself, and lives within its means. For our purposes, sustainability applies both to your organization and your volunteer program.

Your volunteer program cares for and feeds itself primarily by being a healthy system in and of itself. Although it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it does the work of recruiting, training, and retaining volunteers itself.

And your volunteer program lives within its means. That is, whatever resources it needs, it generates.

What is capacity? A volunteer program with sufficient capacity has the ability to access  resources for the task at hand.

That sets the stage. Now lets talk about the big three: recruit, train, and retain.


Recruiting Volunteers

If you’re fishing in the puddle outside our back door, you may not be happy with the catch no matter how hard you work at it. On the other hand, it may not be appropriate to launch a national search for the right volunteer. Find the sweet spot in between.

This means you have to believe your organization deserves top-flight volunteers and you have to be ready, willing, and able to treat them that way. You have to have faith that the perfect volunteer is out there looking for your opportunity. And you have to be clear about that opportunity.

Then you can apply proven methods pioneered in the Human Resources field to find and reel in that recruit.

Training Volunteers

Training begins with recruiting – they’re not separate activities. The way you recruit has everything to do not only with catching your target, but with the training you’ll need to do.

Volunteers love great training. Please do not leave training to an emailed PowerPoint presentation. Your organization’s every word and action shows up to a new recruit as training. You may be inspiring your recruit about the work and your organization, but the person staffing the front desk is sending an entirely different message.

And by the way, training doesn’t end when someone signs off on the training sheet. Training never ends.

Retaining Volunteers

Besides recruiting great volunteers and setting them up to succeed, you’ll want to do everything you can to make sure your volunteers grow along with your organization.

When it comes to recognition, some volunteers shine up to hats and pins, other prefer to celebrate. Mostly, volunteers appreciate appreciation.

The keys to volunteer retention are love, honor, and respect.

In our universe, there are a few resources which are not subject to the law of decay. One of these is love. Love given multiplies.

Love is an energy that fuels your organization’s mission. When love is added to work, no task seems beyond accomplishing. When love is present in work, volunteers come early and stay late. Love is the ultimate gift you bestow on your volunteers, and the gift you would like your volunteers to bestow on your clients.

To honor is to acknowledge – to notice and to express gratitude. You may not be used to acknowledging others, and you may find yourself uncomfortable receiving acknowledgments from others. Start practicing today.

The most effective form of volunteer retention is thanks. And it’s free.

Respect begins with listening. When you listen deeply you connect and learn. This enables you to inspire and lead.

Respect is earned, and as a volunteer leader, you must create opportunities for it to be earned.

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