With the support of volunteers, organizations are able to delegate some of their tasks and free up a bit more time to devote to other things, but with proper training and management, volunteers can accomplish much more than organizations are giving them credit for. Trying a more skill-based approach to volunteer recruitment will greatly improve the quality and quantity of the work being done, not to mention having happier volunteers around the office just makes for a nicer day.
I work with students on a consistent basis that are looking to find an organization to volunteer with, and the first things I review with them are; what they are passionate about, what skills they have, what skills they want to develop, and why they are volunteering in the first place. This helps me gain a better sense of what might be a good fit for them. I make sure they know it is okay to volunteer somewhere and figure out it is not for them, chances are they would be doing more harm than good if they stayed (note: this is in reference to them first giving it a real shot, not just giving up right away). People enjoy doing things they are good at. It’s science! Having them work on something they are skilled at gives the satisfaction of accomplishing a task well, and will greatly increase the chances of retaining that volunteer.
Volunteer coordinators should be making it a priority to find the skills people possess and more appropriately assign them tasks based on what they excel at. No one wants to redo work that was assigned to a volunteer, so don’t assign website updating to a volunteer who hates technology. There are always tedious tasks that an organization can think of for volunteers to do, and that is okay, sometimes that is what needs to be done, but if a volunteer is willing to give a consistent amount of time to an organization and is asking to do more, we should not be afraid to delegate and let go a little. A volunteer that is given some independence is more likely to take ownership over the task at hand and run with it. There is plenty of opportunity to enlist volunteers for graphic design, event planning, website maintenance, marketing, you name it. It all starts with the method of recruitment you use, and the conversations with volunteers prior to their start.
Approaching volunteers in a skills-based way can be done in two ways; you can post detailed volunteer positions when recruiting, or you can target volunteers who have a strong passion for what your organization does and tailor positions to their skill sets. Both are great options. For very specific jobs like graphic design, web development, finances, etc., target ahead of time. Those are not skills you can teach in a timely manner, especially if they are not ones you possess yourself. Be sure to make detailed descriptions of the tasks to be done and the time commitment. You always want to make sure volunteers know what they are getting into ahead of time. Working with general volunteers allows you to determine their skills (organization, inter-personal, etc.) and divide up tasks accordingly. I am a very firm believer that passion in volunteers is what is going to drive them to be successful. Things like data entry, event planning, donor solicitation, are all things that can be taught and skills that can be acquired.
Nonprofits in college towns have a great resource right in front of them. They have hundreds of students looking to develop their professional skills and get more experience directly in their field of study. Let’s not forget about all the professionals out there! There are plenty who want to donate some of their time to lend a hand in their area of expertise. Catchafire is a website that does just that, it matches professionals with nonprofits looking for specific work. Check it out!