How (and Why) to Build a Diverse Volunteer Program

how to build a diverse volunteer programAffirmative action may be a charged idea in the world of politics, but in management consulting it’s a truism that you can’t get anything done with being clear and forceful (ie, “affirmative”) with your direction and energy. You need to make choices.

So what choices can a volunteer coordinator make to ensure a more diverse program? Nonprofit consultant and blogger Jayne Cravens has just posted a new resource center on her Web site with tips for organizations interested in a diverse volunteer force.

Importantly, Jayne points out that often having loads of volunteers to get work done isn’t the most important indicator of a successful volunteer program:

An organization that has fundamental volunteer management procedures in place … usually has no trouble with recruitment and retainment of volunteers. But having plenty of volunteers to do all of the work … usually isn’t enough to say a volunteering program is successful; another indicator of success is if your volunteers represent a variety of ages, education-levels, economic levels and other demographics, or are an accurate reflection of your local community.

Here are a few key ideas Jayne proposes:

  • There are loads of different reasons why as diverse volunteer program could benefit nonprofits. What are yours?
  • Building diversity is a function of both having the will to focus on this goal, and also being willing to work on building trust between your organization and the communities your are reaching out to.
  • Diverse audiences, especially communities of color and working class, often require a stronger mix of on and off-line outreach. Given you’re trying to build trust, the Web isn’t always enough.
  • Be honest and upfront: There’s nothing wrong with saying “We’re looking to add more people of color from your commununity to our program,” if that is what you are actually hoping to do.
  • Think about what your organization can do to make it easier for volunteers to get involved. Can you be more accessible to those in wheelchairs? Can you create more opportunities to serve from home? Can you provide for non-English speakers?
  • Diversity also means diverse ideas of what it means to “volunteer.” You may find yourself explaining fundamentals of your program that you believe are self-evident. They are not.

Jayne’s new resource center on Recruitment Diversity just launched this month — hopefully we can see it evolve to become even more useful. Here’s the link.


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