If a human service agency is not using every volunteer it can get its hands on, it is wasting money. An agency should consider finding a volunteer to do mailings, filing, and other such routine duties. There are also a number of higher level jobs that can be handled by volunteers. Depending on the organization and the skill of volunteers who embrace your cause, they might handle bookkeeping, case work that doesn’t require a specialized degree, fund raising, and marketing, to mention a few.
In business you know who your customers and your potential customers are. You know who your suppliers are. And you know the difference between the two. In the nonprofit world, your donors and volunteers are both suppliers and customers. You don’t need to convince your suppliers to sell to your manufacturing company or your store, but in a nonprofit agency, you need to sell your potential donors and volunteers on the idea of giving to your organization. That means they are customers in that respect, but they also supply the money and volunteer time necessary for you to operate.
Now let’s consider how we can most efficiently utilize our volunteers. Research has proven that, in many agencies, one of the wisest of expenditures is to hire a volunteer coordinator—someone whose only duty is to recruit, train, supervise, and reward volunteers. Depending on the size of the agency, this may be a full-time or part-time position. How about a volunteer volunteer-coordinator? That is okay as long as the volunteer is held to the same standards of regular hours and commitment as a paid employee. This work is too often left to whomever on the staff, from the CEO to the receptionist, has time to do it at any given moment. Fact is nobody has time, so it is often done haphazardly. In employing a volunteer coordinator, the agency must maintain the discipline that she is not expected to answer the phone, fill in for the receptionist, file papers, or perform any of the other duties that come up around an office. Once you cross that line, it is a short step until you find that all you have hired is an extra pair of hands, and you are right back where you started in ensuring the proper use of volunteers.
Nothing can turn off a volunteer more than to perceive incompetence on the part of agency to which she has agreed to give her time. What if she has been asked to come to paint a room on a Saturday, only to arrive and discover that no one is there, or no one thought to buy paint? She will probably never be back to your agency and may decide that volunteering, in general, is a waste of their valuable time.
Volunteers need to be treated as the valuable resources they are—not as just a commodity. Give them plenty of pats on the back and occasionally bring in lunch for them. If the agency can afford it, have an annual dinner to celebrate them. If you can’t afford it, find a friendly company to sponsor it. Volunteers should receive the same level of respect as your professional colleagues.