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Making Volunteering a Win-Win Situation

Volunteers are key resources for many nonprofits. They support your mission and can bring valuable skills to your organization, becoming a positive addition to your culture. At UniversalGivingTM, we have many long-term volunteers and interns on our team. They provide great new ideas, strong operational support, and can-do attitudes. They are an essential part of our culture. Our vision would not be the same without them.

Sometimes nonprofits struggle with the best ways to utilize volunteers. How do we take advantage of these valuable resources and also provide a positive and beneficial experience to them?

For us, orientation is important, as is ongoing coaching. We're continually expanding our program, because there are always ways we can increase our client service internally.

Every new volunteer (for simplicity's sake, we'll use the term volunteer in the rest of this article, but the statements apply to interns as well) gets a thorough orientation and is assigned a point person. The point person leads the orientation process and is also the volunteer's coach for the first month. The volunteer works in a single business unit during that time. It's important to us that, when we bring on a new team member at any level, we make sure he or she has a "warm" contact who can help with the orientation.

We also ensure that the new volunteer receives documents covering basic procedure and operations. All of our materials are in a manual, which we update based on each new individual's feedback. The documents cover everything from overall strategy to how to operate the office fax machine. Our Effectiveness Tips document is especially important, as it highlights key areas that are important to us, usually on a day-to-day basis. The tips actually serve two purposes: they give new team members basic knowledge while serving as reminders to team members who have been with us longer.

Volunteers assignments are added to the team work plan, to help them and us keep track of their major areas of focus for the time they're with us. If volunteers stay with us longer, becoming involved in more areas, they'll transition to their own individual work plans. This work plan helps each person maintain his or her projects, deadline dates, and priorities.

Each volunteer then has a weekly meeting with a manager or his or her business unit, and people in each business unit are available to answer volunteers' questions. As volunteers move forward in their work with us, we continue to maintain open communication, to watch how people are progressing, and to make any adjustments based on their abilities, execution of tasks, attitudes, and specific areas where they would like to grow.

It can be hard for smaller organizations, where people often play multiple roles, to provide a clear point of contact, someone who has time to invest in volunteers.

We believe, however, that it is crucial to provide each volunteer with a defined manager who communicates with him or her and provides direction and feedback. We give our volunteers the management, support, and guidance they need, doing all we can to help them succeed as much as possible.

We also believe in giving volunteers responsibility. It's important at UniversalGiving that interns as well as executives are able to handle high-level work. People's capabilities are determined not only by age but also by talent, attitude, and desire to serve.

All of this does take time. Beautiful time, time to listen, develop, encourage people. To help them reach their goals—and to reach yours. They need coaching and directing. Time is one of your most valuable resources, and in my mind, this is one of the most important ways we can spend it.

Pamela Hawley, UniversalGiving
© 2011, UniversalGiving

Pamela Hawley is the founder and CEO of UniversalGiving, a Web-based marketplace that helps people give and volunteer with top-performing, vetted organizations all over the world. You can read more of Pamela's writing on her blog, Living and Giving.

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice