How can nonprofits thrive when funding is tight? It’s an age-old question for volunteer-based organizations, and we’ve long suspected that no single answer is right for 100% of organizations. So we decided to find out! We recently asked the answer experts at YoExpert.com to share with us their thoughts on the matter. What do you think of their advice?
By Jason Saul, www.yoexpert.com
Nonprofit organizations have been hit especially hard these past few years, and are no strangers to the belt-tightening and sacrifice we’ve all had to share through some of the leanest times in memory. But, even as budgets are being slashed and organizations are forced to figure out how to do more with less, new and exciting opportunities have presented themselves.
This is especially true for nonprofits that make use of volunteers. The difficult job market has been a boon to nonprofits, shepherding many extraordinary, highly skilled people into oft-understaffed volunteer programs.
However, managing volunteers, even in the best of times, can be a difficult process. Think about some of these tips to help you through this period, while nurturing your people and remaining focused:
Volunteers Aren’t Paid Staff
Even if your coworkers are getting pink slips, be careful to insulate your volunteers from the chaos around them, and remind employees that volunteers are just that. A stressful period like this one can decimate your ranks if you’re not careful to maintain your people’s morale.
Filling the Gaps
Volunteers may be tasked with performing roles that were, until recently, held by a fulltime employee. Take care to discuss these changes with department supervisors and line employees in order to lessen any tensions that may arise. Your people aren’t there to “replace” anyone.
The New Crew
Managing volunteers who have arrived with impressive resumes and advanced degrees, who are eager to help out and learn while they wait for the job market to recover, can be bewildering. It’s important to help these individuals segue into your organizational framework, and gently remind them of expectations and limitations.
Your people are just as much a part of the organization as anyone who gets a paycheck. Make sure they are aware of the overarching circumstances of a budget-downsizing period, and don’t hesitate to solicit suggestions. Take the suggestions seriously, and act on them.
Your Own Budget
You’re not just managing volunteers; you’re also the head of a department, and may find your budget (never huge to begin with!) cut along with everyone else’s. Plan ahead, and try to find efficiencies wherever you can. The one thing you probably don’t lack for is human capital, so see where your people can help in the office.
Rather than a slew of great people knocking down your door, eager to get to work, your organization’s budget troubles may be dissuading potential new volunteers. Don’t cut back on active recruitment at places like VolunteerMatch… Hard times are often the best time to bring the best people to your door.
Your people are aware of the difficulties, and are intimately involved in your organization’s operations every day. You’re listening to them, and working alongside them… Now’s the time to ensure you’re hanging onto them. Long-tenured volunteers are repositories of irreplaceable institutional memory.
Managing volunteers means recognition is your primary motivational and management tool. If you want to retain them and nurture them, now is the time to redouble your efforts. Of course, there’s a fine line you shouldn’t cross, as you may come off desperate or disingenuous.
Make sure you remain visibly mission-critical to your organization’s success. Volunteers can often be overlooked, and that’s never truer than during a period of organizational stress.
And Stay Positive!
It’s the most important thing to remember, and one of the easiest to forget. You work in the nonprofit sector because you care about helping people, and you manage volunteers because you love the connections and the myriad enrichments. Don’t forget it.
This article was written by Jason Saul, an expert in the Nonprofit Charitable Orgs category at www.yoexpert.com.
(Photo by jonwick04)