Leading Volunteers

Via [CharityFocus/Stanford GSB]

Many nonprofits suffer from a “faulty understanding” of the value of their volunteers and “faulty execution” in using them, said Robert T. Grimm Jr., director of research and policy development at the CNCS. Grimm and Washburn urged nonprofit leaders to “plug the holes in the leaky bucket” of volunteering.

But even as nonprofits need to rely more on volunteers amid the downturn, they fall short in managing this talent, the experts said. Consider this fact: more than one-third of people who donate their services drop out of organized volunteer work the following year. “It’s not necessarily because they had a bad experience, but a bland experience,” said Grimm.

Often, the organization undervalues its volunteers, asking them to stuff envelopes when they could be doing more skilled and mission-critical work such as fundraising, helping to write a business plan, or managing other volunteers. Nonprofits need to “change the paradigm” for what volunteers can do and “cast well” when matching a volunteer’s assignment with their talents and passions, added Grimm.

For those who are leading volunteers, Kent Blumberg had put together a great bunch of slides titled “Leading Volunteers”. He says give your volunteers these three gifts:

  • Give them the Gift of Clear Direction: People respond to clear directions. We want to know what’s expected of us. We want to understand how our individual roles connect to the organization’s mission.
    • Be clear on what you expect from them: People need to know what’s expected. Leaders of volunteers are often reluctant to set expectations. They worry that volunteers will leave if too much is asked of them. In fact, just the opposite is the case. Ask too little of your volunteers and they will leave to find a more meaningful use of their time.
  • Give them the gift of your support: Ask them to do what they do best and what they value. Make sure they have the resources to do great work. And let them know you care about them as people, not just as volunteer labor. Yep, that’s right. The more you care about them as the wonderful human beings they all are, the more supported they will feel.
  • Give them the gift of recognition and reward: Ask for their opinions, advice and ideas. Give them encouragement. Give each volunteer a weekly dose of praise and recognition. “Every week?” you ask. Yes, each and every week. The Gallup Organization has found twelve key statements that correlate with high performance. One of those is the statement, “In the last seven days I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.” Gallup tested sentences without the time frame, or with a month, or two weeks or some other time. None of the other variations correlated with high performance the way weekly praise and recognition did.

Whether is for-profit or not-for-profit organizations, it ultimately boils down to one thing: How much do you love your people? And does your love show?

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