Creating Vibrant Volunteer Organizations
Updated: Sep 6
We wanted to give a shout out to volunteer organizations. These are organizations that are run completely by volunteers who receive little or no compensation. It can be assumed that they are somehow less sophisticated or less complicated to lead.
We beg to differ.
Photo by Ismael Paramo
In our community, High School Band is a big deal. The Band Boosters support hundreds of kids and parents as they put on shows under Friday night lights and compete throughout the state in highly rigorous contests.
Their budgets can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.They coordinate countless volunteers, execute multiple fundraising events and oversee expensive equipment. All while managing many, many teenagers!
A friend of ours who was the president of her band boosters quipped that she should be able to put this position on her professional resume because it was like running a small city.
G2 Solutions has worked with volunteer organizations and we are impressed with how these leaders creatively address the unique challenge of motivating “staff” to devote hours of their time after these volunteers have worked their day jobs and attended to their other personal obligations. The work being requested is not just showing up to a snack stand and working a couple of hours. These positions often require focus throughout the year along with a specific set of skills.
This is a tall order. On the one hand, volunteers are often highly motivated because they have a deep connection to the group’s mission. On the other hand, the volunteer may feel that the work they do is a lower priority than their other commitments. Leaders have to respect that people are giving their time to the organization as well as create an environment that expects high quality work.
G2 Solutions has identified characteristics essential to creating this type of environment:
Define their role in your story - Understanding the story of your organization and how a volunteer fits into that story will increase engagement. Volunteers may not feel that they are integral to an organization. They may falsely believe that the organization’s work will get done with or without them. The more they understand their impact on the organization, the more engaged they will become.
Reinforce their importance - A yearly volunteer appreciation event is not enough to keep people engaged in the organization. While this is nice and you should spend some time and effort on this type of event, you want to acknowledge their service throughout the year. This should be a combination of informal and formal recognition. It can be a quick text thanking someone for helping with a registration drive or a regular shout out in a newsletter.
Be respectful of their time - The quickest way to lose volunteers is failing to be transparent about what the job really entails. Being open and honest about roles, responsibilities and time commitments communicates that you respect all that the volunteer has to balance. Take some time to have a conversation about any concerns to see if there is a solution that will bring their talents to the organization without burning them out.
Create a good hand off - Be sure you have a good transition process so that new people have the tools and resources to hit the ground running. Giving a volunteer a collection of resources before they take on their role will increase the volunteers’ confidence and improve the continuity in that position. Also give thought to volunteer succession planning. This can be identifying people who could be an asset to your organization and suggesting they join a committee before they take a leadership position. That way they can get on the job training and taking over will seem like a natural next step.
Building up these features in your volunteer organization will keep the organization vibrant and move it effectively toward its goals.
And a quick business note: While business organizations may not have volunteers, many have interns. Keeping these volunteer program principals in mind when you are developing your intern program will help maximize the potential of interns. And, great interns can become a source for great employees.