“…nonprofits are only as effective as their people”

I took last Friday off work for some extended weekend travel, but prior to leaving town I met with a nonprofit organization that I volunteer with to discuss the next initiatives/programs I would be working on. I really enjoy these meetings for a few reasons. 1: I like volunteering, so hearing how I can help is fun to me. 2: I love newly forming initiatives, so being able to be given a vague idea and run with it really excites me, and 3: I get to learn a lot about the needs of nonprofits and what challenges they face.

All of the projects I am working on for them stem from one main challenge- not knowing how to use and manage volunteers. Now, this is by no means an insult to this organization, I hear this all the time, but it simply reinforces the lack of resources (time being one of them) that nonprofits are forced to work around. Often times, it is not that nonprofit professionals do not know how to manage volunteers, it is that they may not know how to manage what little time they have to devote to volunteer management, most effectively. This is something I wish I could fix (who knows, maybe one day you will see a book with my name on it about nonprofit management on a time crunch).

The majority of nonprofits I come across do not have a full-time, much less a part-time staff member, coordinating their volunteers. It usually tends to be something another position has simply absorbed under their responsibilities. This is drastically hurting nonprofits everywhere. Successful volunteer management should include; planning, recruitment, orientation/training, supervision, and retention. If you have a large volunteer base, or are trying to build one, that is a job all on its own. When staff have limited time to spend on their volunteer engagement, they are prioritizing getting the needed tasks done. Amidst that chaos, the proper training and recognition get lost, two key factors that play into retaining volunteers. So then, you are left to start all over again with a new set of volunteer hands.

In my last post I talked about money being spent on leadership development for staff in NPOs, this is part of it. Supporting staff in nonprofits includes professional development, but also, just more help! The Talent Philanthropy Project conducts research on the idea that “Foundations are only as effective as their grantees, and nonprofits are only as effective as their people!” but if their people are worn out, the quality of work will go down. One statistic they found really shows the workload nonprofit professionals take on, without further support.

 Only 37 percent of organizations hired new staff during 2012 to support the new program work they initiated — meaning that more than 60 percent of nonprofits are adding to the existing workload of staff (Nonprofit HR Solutions,2013)

People are the nonprofit sector. They are who these organizations are serving, they are the staff talent behind the organizations, and they are the volunteers that believe in the cause. Nonprofits could be much more effective and accomplish more if staff could focus specific allotted time to volunteer development. The pressure of having low overhead is so high that it causes organizations to lose sight of just how valuable nonprofit coordinators could be. We need to make it okay for nonprofits to utilize overhead where needed, on staff that will make achieving their missions more feasible.


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