Guest post by Kayla Matthews
Regardless of the size or type of your nonprofit, volunteers are probably your lifeblood — perhaps even more than your donors.
Getting the people who voluntarily give their time to your organization to stick around involves setting and managing expectations, and creating and putting policies in place to define operations. Otherwise, volunteers might leave or become disgruntled.
A 2011 report published by Opportunity Knocks that polled over 2,000 employees in the nonprofit sector found 34 percent of respondents often or always feel “used up” by the end of their workday.
Even though the study surveyed employees rather than volunteers, it’s still indicative of why it’s so important to have policies in place. By doing so, you can reduce the amount of anxiety people may feel when they sign up to give time to your organization.
More recent research indicates some volunteers may be at high risk of developing mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially if they work in intense surroundings.
However, solid administrative procedures that are concise, understandable, and easy-to-follow could be instrumental in keeping volunteers happy and healthy as they support your organization. Here are six things to keep in mind when creating those policies.
1. Create and Distribute a Volunteer Handbook
There will undoubtedly be cases when volunteers aren’t sure how to handle a situation.
For example, maybe someone just donated used clothing or canned food to your organization. What is the proper procedure for accepting and documenting those items? A newer volunteer likely won’t know.
By creating and distributing a volunteer handbook, you’re helping volunteers better contribute to your organization. They’ll know which expectations they need to meet and have a reference tool, too. Also, you protect your organization by preventing volunteers from saying they weren’t aware that such a policy existed.
A good time to have volunteers read and acknowledge (or sign) your volunteer handbook is right before or during volunteer orientation.
Pro tip: Unsure of how to get started in creating a volunteer handbook? Check out this webinar from VolunteerMatch.
2. Explain Procedures to New and Potential Volunteers
Speaking of onboarding, most successful companies have thorough onboarding processes that orient new employees into an organization’s culture and manages expectations. You can do the same for volunteers by creating a plan that helps them feel less overwhelmed when they begin. It might include mentoring, role shadowing, and topical presentations around your impact and mission. Document this process and ensure your volunteers know about it.
Similarly, describe steps people must go through as a potential volunteer applicant, especially if you conduct regular recruitment presentations. You might ask your volunteers to fill out applications, go through interviews, submit a background check, or agree to undergo training that’s valuable for the role or your organization, such as CPR or first-aid skills.
With these tips, you’ll begin to notice volunteer retention increase.
3. Remember, Life Happens
It’s smart to require volunteers contribute a minimum number of hours to your organization. That facilitates a better balance for your workload. However, also keep in mind that things can crop up that make it difficult or impossible for volunteers to always meet their obligations.
Instituting a procedure for how volunteers should inform managers about updates to their schedules is essential. Besides figuring out the method, you should also include specifics. For example, volunteers must call off at least two hours before the start of their shift.
4. Let Volunteers Know Where to Seek Help
Making open communication the standard at your nonprofit could maximize your volunteers’ productivity and help them feel better supported. Get in the habit of biweekly or monthly check-ins that let you see how volunteers are performing, while fostering a safe space for them to bring up challenges or complaints.
It’s also ideal to build volunteer buy-in within your administrative structure. As mentioned above, some volunteer work is particularly stressful and can lead to volunteer burnout.
If volunteers know they can come to you or another designated person to admit they’re struggling — and feel validated in doing so — you could prevent problems that lead to volunteer attrition while connecting them with the resources they need.
5. Maintain Confidentiality and Explain Why It’s Essential
There will almost certainly be something that happens while someone volunteers that needs to be kept private.
To protect your organization and constituents, you should enforce a confidentiality agreement that maintains how to handle sensitive information. Giving real-world examples of why an agreement such as this could help increase compliance and reduce risk.
6. Lay out Policies for Disciplinary Action
Even when you take precautions to let volunteers know about behavioral expectations, they could still perform in ways that necessitate taking reactive measures after unacceptable practices. Create uniform procedures for what happens when a rule gets broken.
By following these tips, you’ll discover it’s pretty straightforward to create and enforce administrative policies that volunteers clearly understand.
That’ll make finding and keeping outstanding volunteers both achievable and natural.