Are you dealing with pushback from your organization’s staff around engaging volunteers? Would you like to turn staff into volunteer lovers?
I’m stating the obvious to you when I talk about the importance of volunteers to our programs. However, in many of the organizations I’ve seen over the years, other staff just aren’t as convinced. Many staff members don’t appreciate the impact volunteers make. Or they don’t know how to utilize their skills effectively. And sometimes they just can’t be bothered training them on more than the most menial of tasks.
This limits the impact that volunteers can make on your mission, and can cause conflict or frustration that may drive volunteers away. So, what can you do about it?
Here are five tips to turn staff into volunteer lovers!
Educate the staff about the impact that volunteers make.
Get permission from your Executive Director or your Board to hold a presentation to staff on the benefits of volunteering. Provide stats, tell stories, present case studies. Show how the organization’s capacity is increased by the efforts of volunteers, and how it could be increased even more if volunteers were engaged in more ways. Most paid personnel care deeply about the organization’s mission, and if they understand how much volunteers actually contribute, they will be more open to involving them.
Involve staff in the volunteer recruitment process.
This will give them a sense of ownership and pride in the work of volunteers. Encourage them to help identify potential volunteers in their networks, or to participate in the interview process. In one organization that I worked with, I prompted the entire staff to reach out to at least three people they knew to let them know about volunteer opportunities. The organization received a flood of applicants, and staff members became enthusiastic about the work that “their” volunteers did.
Encourage staff members to develop relationships with the volunteers.
By building friendships between staff and volunteers, the staff will learn that volunteers are more than just envelope-stuffers. That they can bring in high-level skills and abilities. For example, a staff member I know in a local organization discovered that one of the volunteers was a computer whiz, and she got her to build them a new website. How do you build these relationships? One way is to mix the two workforces together at events. Don’t allow all the paid staff to sit at one table and all the volunteers at another.
Instruct staff on how to engage volunteers.
Working with volunteers may be a new experience for some staff members, and they may need to know how to effectively delegate, provide feedback, etc. Provide clear instructions and expectations. Let them know that it’s okay to delegate certain tasks, and give them a list of which task could be delegated and which are better done by paid staff. Explain the difference between giving instruction to other staff members and giving instruction to volunteers. Remind them that if they can effectively lead volunteers (who aren’t handcuffed by a paycheque) they can lead anyone! If necessary, create a handbook laying out instructions and any exceptions.
Prepare answers for people who push back.
Many times I hear staff saying things like “Why bother training a volunteer? I can do it faster myself. And besides, they won’t stick around long, then I’ll have to train someone else.” It can be hard for some people to realize that taking two hours to train someone else to do a half-hour task is really a time-saver. Yes, it’s faster to do it themselves this time, and maybe for a few other times, but over the long term, it will take a massive amount of work off their shoulders. Yes, if you only do the task a few times a year, it probably isn’t worth the effort. However, if you do the task regularly, the time savings can quickly add up.
Also, if volunteers are offered learning opportunities and the chance to master new skills, they are more likely to commit for the long term. If you’re unsure, check out Dan Pink’s TED talk “The Puzzle of Motivation”.
It’s important to turn staff into volunteer lovers. Having all staff members engaging and supporting volunteers can help everyone: the staff, the volunteers and the organization as a whole. When everyone works together, the mission can be accomplished faster and more effectively. And let’s face it; that’s why we’re all here!