Nonprofits: What to Do About National Volunteer Week During COVID-19

One serious consequence of the current pandemic is that many nonprofits are unable to rely on volunteers as a significant on-site resource. In Coronavirus & Volunteers: Your Guide for Managing Uncertainty, Tobi Johnson describes this challenging situation:

“Leaders of volunteers must often balance competing priorities – the needs of volunteers, the needs of the organization, and the needs of the communities they serve.

“In many cases, organizations can’t simply shut down their facilities. And, front-line workers who rely on volunteers to supplement their work are forced to choose between having an extra pair of hands and risking disease spread to clients, co-workers, volunteers, and the families of all.”

What does this mean for National Volunteer Week being observed April 19-25, 2020?

I intended to survey nonprofit leaders about their plans to celebrate volunteers this year but posts on my local Nonprofit Agencies COVID-19 Group Facebook page were (and still are) so filled with desperate requests for masks, gloves, food, and other critical mission-related supplies that I didn’t have the heart to ask them.

Understand volunteer motivation and why it can’t be taken for granted

People don’t volunteer for the sake of being recognized. They dedicate their time and talent because they’re attracted to an organization’s mission — they want to be part of something that matters and know their efforts make a difference. As I wrote in my book, Share of Mind, Share of Heart: Marketing Tools of Engagement for Nonprofits:

“Mission matters. The people behind the mission also matter, and their passion for the mission can never be taken for granted.”

That’s why COVID-19 isn’t an excuse for not recognizing volunteers. So what can you do?

Volunteer appreciation during the pandemic … and after

A sincere and simple “thank you” message to your volunteers is what’s needed to acknowledge their continued support of your organization and mission. This can be part of, or in addition to, any special COVID-19 communication update(s) you share with volunteers and stakeholders.

Many volunteers are frustrated in not being able to directly serve as they did pre-pandemic and would rather be side-by-side with your staff than sidelined. You may also acknowledge this in your thank-you and, if applicable, offer virtual and other alternative options for them to continue supporting your nonprofit.

When the pandemic is over, many of your volunteers will be more than ready to return. You may also find yourself with new volunteers motivated to serve.

And next year, we can look forward to having have more volunteers to recognize and time to participate in more formal volunteer appreciation efforts.

[Title image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay. Thank you card image by Howard Riminton on Unsplash.]

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