This blog post kicks off a six-part series in which I explore volunteer engagement and management.
It’s a critical topic for nonprofits that need to capture the attention and availability of more unemployed and underemployed workers willing to volunteer time and energy.
But the match of nonprofits and able volunteers won’t work if volunteer talent is not effectively managed.
I was excited to be a first-time volunteer at a special holiday party for children and their families hit hard by the economy. When I arrived at the banquet hall I was stunned by the number of buses already in the parking lot and the constant stream of bus loads arriving from churches and community groups. I entered the fray and squeezed my way through the crowd to find volunteer registration.
The volunteer table was chaos central. I introduced myself, explained I had signed up to serve the dinner shift, and asked about the check-in process. After shuffling paper and unable to find the sign-in sheet, one of the volunteers handed me a volunteer button, pointed to the dining hall, and told me to just go in and help out.
The room was set up with rows of tables to accommodate hundreds of people, and there seemed to be hundreds more milling about. Two long buffet stations were set up at one end of the banquet room lined with volunteers dishing out turkey, ham, stuffing, potatoes, green beans, rolls & butter; other volunteers ran back and forth to the kitchen to replenish the serving stations. More volunteers cleared dishes while groups of guests waited to be seated. I attached myself to a volunteer who had worked the event before, then quickly learned the ropes to make myself useful. Fortunately there were more than enough – even too many – volunteers to help out.
At the end of my shift, I thanked my fellow volunteer for taking me under her wing. There was no official “sign out” of volunteers, so I just waved to the people working the volunteer table and left the banquet hall. It was my first and last time at the event.
As a long time volunteer involved in a variety of organizations, I was surprised by the lack of advance communications, on-site instructions, and post-event acknowledgment encouraging volunteers to return. The good news is the holiday party attracts an abundance of volunteers; the bad news is not all of them return. Note: the event is organized and hosted through the generosity of a private company, not by a nonprofit. Nonetheless, it illustrates that volunteer engagement requires more than a “if-you-build-it-they-will-come” approach.
“Sadly, most nonprofits do not view their volunteers as strategic assets and have not developed ways to take full advantage of them.”
– excerpt from Stanford Social Innovation Review article “The New Volunteer Workforce.”
I hope you’ll join me in this “Engaging Volunteer” series that includes:
- Understanding the Volunteer Experience
- Intentional Volunteer Management
- When Volunteers are Brand Partners
- The Volunteer-Staff Connection
- Resource Links for Volunteer Engagement & Management.
Throughout this special series, I invite you to share your experience as a volunteer. Comments from nonprofit managers are also welcome.