Archive for the ‘Volunteers’ Category

The secret to a good volunteer program

February 26, 2010


Photo by Chris Halderman

What is the secret to a good volunteer program? Well, what is the difference between organizations that have 20 volunteers and organizations that have 1,000? And, how do those all-volunteer nonprofits exist?

Here it comes, the secret to a good volunteer program is….


Yes, I know that there is no one single thing that will turn an ineffective or inefficient volunteer program into a machine over night. But over the years I have seen the one thing that rock star volunteer programs have in common and that is structure. I serve on the board of of an animal rescue. It has a decent sized budget, takes in hundreds (yes, hundreds) of animals each year. It also has hundreds of volunteers. The organization’s last event raised over $25,000 and it was the second year the event had been in existence. Oh, and it is all-volunteer. There are no paid staff. In the last 3 years the organization had undergone some fundamental changes, which included incorporating more structure into all facets of the organization. By bring more structure into their volunteer program, they doubled if not tripled the number of volunteers they have and have begun several new initiatives as a result of this influx.

So, what do I mean by structure and what does it look like?

  • There is someone in charge, one person that a volunteer reports to. The person in charge does not have to be a paid staff member.
  • There are always tasks that volunteers can do. Volunteers don’t wait weeks to get a task.
  • Volunteers are incorporated in every aspect of an organization – development, communications, etc.
  • Volunteers are involved in important decisions. They aren’t given the crap work. They do both crap work and important jobs too.
  • There are job descriptions for key volunteers.
  • There are volunteer trainings.
  • Volunteers are thanked and there are appreciation events.

These are just a few suggestions. I think structure is fundamental to ensuring a strong volunteer program 


Evaluation Series: Volunteer Management

February 19, 2010

Photo by San Jose Library

You can incorporate evaluation into your work with volunteers in several ways. You can use evaluation to determine the needs of an organization so that you can recruit and appropriately assign volunteers. When recruiting you can use surveys to determine the skills volunteers have. Similar to Human Resources work, you can use evaluation to track a volunteers’ effectiveness, performance and to estimate the value of their volunteer time.

There are many excellent resources online for best practices in volunteer management. This is a tool for the eight steps of volunteer management and describes each step (including the needs assessment and evaluation. Here is a thorough introduction to volunteer management. If you would like to evaluate the effectiveness of your volunteer program, here is a guide on program evaluation 101.

The final post in this week’s evaluation series is: Evaluation Series: Fundraising. The goal of this week’s evaluation series is to highlight how evaluation can play a role in your job and to provide resources to accomplish incorporating evaluation in your organization.