I’m concerned that the word Volunteer may be limiting our ability to recruit some very needed assistance.
If I had to wager a guess, I’d bet that when most people hear the word Volunteer they are likely to think of direct service — like building a house for a deserving family, or serving meals at a soup kitchen, or cutting trails or dragging debris out of a river on Earth Day.
At first glance I was somewhat surprised that fundraising was at the top of the list of US volunteer activities given the number of complaints I hear from nonprofits about their inability to recruit volunteers to help them raise funds.
- Are volunteers a finite or infinitely renewable natural resource?
- Does each nonprofit have an obligation to our whole sector to create satisfying experiences that regenerate volunteers?
- Are poor volunteer practices not only driving people away from the offending organization but also souring volunteers against any volunteer service in the future?
These are some of the questions provoked by an intriguing article in the article “It Ain’t Natural: Toward a New (Natural) Resource Conceptualization for Volunteer Management” in the August 2009 edition of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly .
While the title screams academia, the ideas raised by the authors Jeffrey L. Brudney of Cleveland State University and Lucas C. P. M. Meijs of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, deserve serious discussion and wide exposure within our sector.
Citing a a study done by the Corporation for National and Community Service, Brudney and Meijs warn that “a staggering one in three Americans evidently dropped out of volunteering between 2005 and 2006.” They note that other studies document similar problems in other countries.
The authors suggest that nonprofits in general are too preoccupied with recruiting volunteers and don’t pay enough attention to retaining them.
I’m sure you’ve heard someone lament (and maybe even have said it yourself): “we can’t find enough good volunteers.”
What if, the authors suggest, instead of treating “volunteer energy” as a resource with an inexhaustible supply, we perceived volunteers as a resource that could actually run out?
How would our behavior need to change?
I find this concept incredibly intriguing, especially because it fits very nicely into my”we’re all in this together” framework of civil society.
Imagine that you are a first time volunteer. You’ve been thinking about doing something good for your community so you’ve found your way to a volunteer job through family, friend or volunteer center. You’re excited, but a little unsure of your role and how you might contribute.
It’s likely that it may take quite a while before you hear from the organization at all. Or, they contact you quickly but they don’t really have any volunteer needs right now. No one takes the time to find out what skills you have or what else you might have to offer.
Or maybe they have a job, but in reality it is pretty undefined. You are assigned to a staff member (or another volunteer) who simply doesn’t have the time to train you and makes you feel as if you are in their way. You never really get a good idea of what you should be doing or how to Read more
I frequently consult with and have occasionally served on the board of a lot of very small nonprofit organizations. By very small, I mean organizations that have no staff or just a tiny handful of staff, often part-time.
These tiny organizations often need to rely on their board members to serve staff functions. That’s clearly obvious for organizations that have no staff at all… but may not be so clear once you’ve hired an executive director or one or two more staff positions.
It takes a lot of human-power to make our organizations run. One or two people, while they can do a lot, can’t do everything that needs to be done to be a thriving nonprofit. It’s pretty near impossible for one person to run quality programs, raise all the revenues, reach out to the larger community, and manage the operations and finances.
Board members in small nonprofits usually need to wear two hats… the hat they wear to govern the organization and? the hat they wear to serve a staff function… that is, to take on one of the many jobs that fall under the “staff” side of the organization and get them done.? Other non-board members can also be recruited to get the work accomplished.
How do you do this? You can start by making a comprehensive list of all that you hope to achieve this year. Then break those objectives down into the tasks that are needed to get them accomplished. Think about what skills and knowledge are essential to get this work done.
Knowing what needs to happen, recruit board members (or other volunteers) with the expectation that they will produce one of those desired outcomes.
Here’s an example. My local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals runs a series of educational workshops, an annual conference on fundraising, and a huge celebration for National Philanthropy Day, among others. With just one part time administrator, the chapter relies on its board members and volunteer to get things done. When board members are recruited, they are asked at the time of recruitment to chair a committee that is charged with the responsibility of achieving one of these very large tasks. ? I myself have served as chair of the Annual Conference, the scholarship committee, and the mentoring committee (not at the same time!)
So, to make a working? board work, every board member should have a job and outcome that he or she is responsible for achieving.