Building a Good Volunteer Program

good volunteer program

You may never have actually thought about what makes a good volunteer program. Most not-for-profit organizations rely heavily on their volunteers, but few volunteer programs are carefully planned out. Most grow organically, with parts and pieces added as the need for them arises.

That can work – somewhat. It’s kind of like a house that was build for two people, then had rooms added on here and there as more people moved in. A bedroom here, a bathroom there, a staircase tucked into a corner where there used to be a closet. Such houses can be fun and unconventional, but they’re rarely convenient.

Same with your volunteer program. It may have everything you need, but it might be hard to get at those things. It may take more time than you’d like to do simple tasks, like tracking volunteer hours. You may feel like you’re always playing catch up with your training program, or sending out far too many surveys to volunteers who didn’t stick around.

To build a good volunteer program, start with looking closely at your mission and vision statements.

Imagine what a “perfect” volunteer program would look like if it was actually intentionally designed to further your mission and vision. Be precise and detailed. Get a crystal-clear picture in your head about how much time tasks would take, what procedures and protocols would be in place, how many volunteers you would need and what skills they would need, etc. Think about recruitment, training, scheduling, management, appreciation – everything! Then write it out. It’s important to get all the details down because you’ll be looking at them regularly to track your progress.

Then take a look at your program as it is right now. How close to that ideal are you?

The first step in moving toward that ideal is to assign every task that you or your volunteers currently do into one of a small handful of areas. Each area is complete within itself, but they will lead into each other to create the whole. Those areas are recruitment, onboarding and training, management, appreciation and program review.

Start with recruitment. What are the tasks that you do to bring in and sign-up new volunteers? Think about creating volunteer job descriptions, when and where you post them, what the application process is, reference checks, security checks, etc. Once all the tasks are laid out, see if there are any overlaps or redundancies. Is anything missing? Are things done in the most efficient order? Are all tasks really necessary to further your mission? What could be done differently to save time or effort?

Once you get a handle on recruitment, move to onboarding and training. Look at the transition between recruitment and onboarding, and determine ways to make that run smoothly. Then do with your onboarding and training what you did with your recruitment process. Lay out the tasks, check for redundancies, etc.

Then go through your general management and then your volunteer appreciation procedures.

Finally, think about how often you review your program. Is this the first time you’ve ever really looked at it? Set up a regular time – at least once a year – to compare your program to that “perfect program” that you created. Are you getting closer to it? Are there any areas that you’re lagging in? What can you change to improve those?

To create a good volunteer program, you will need to keep striving toward your ideal.

You may never actually achieve it (there’s no such thing as a truly perfect program!), but if you keep working toward it you will have more than just a good volunteer program; you will have an amazing one!

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