What is Volunteer Engagement?
Ask most people to explain volunteer engagement and they’ll tell you they know it when they see it, yet find it difficult to articulate. They can describe it in general terms as a process that includes recruiting and matching volunteer interests with a nonprofit’s needs, then recognizing and respecting those volunteers.
Beyond the generalities, it’s easier for people to describe what volunteer engagement is not. For example, volunteer engagement means:
- not taking advantage of volunteers’ time and talent.
- not keeping volunteers out of the communication loop regarding what’s happening (e.g., major changes in operations or direction).
- not ignoring volunteers’ input and ideas.
- not creating extra work just to keep volunteers busy.
- not giving lip-service to volunteer value.
One can turn these negative descriptors into positive ones to get closer to explaining volunteer engagement, but it’s not enough. Fortunately, there’s a more comprehensive definition.
Volunteer engagement is …
According to Jill Friedman Fixler of the JFFixler Group, volunteer engagement is “a strategy that builds organizational capacity through staff and volunteer collaboration and the development of high-impact, meaningful opportunities that create greater influence and outcome for the organization.”
What I like about Fixler’s definition is that it recognizes:
- as a “strategy,” volunteer engagement is intentional
- its purpose is to help advance a nonprofit’s mission by building “organizational capacity”
- it is based on mutual endeavor via “staff and volunteer collaboration”
- it benefits the nonprofit by creating “greater influence and outcome.”
A great way to articulate what volunteer engagement is and does.
Thanks for your insightful comment, Liesel. Situations where personal agendas (of staff and/or volunteers) trump the mission can be extremely damaging – leading to internal rifts and disengagement.
Volunteer engagement works well when both the nonprofit and volunteer have a give and take relationship that keeps the mission of the nonprofit clearly in focus. At times I have seen volunteers co-opt the nonprofit for their own personal vision,which upsets the balance. I have also seen volunteers as part of advisory boards feel stymied by rapid changes a nonprofit makes, due to the changing economy and state policies of the nonprofit, so that the power and energy tips away from the volunteers.