5 Steps to Start a Volunteer Program

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5 Steps to Start a Volunteer Program
A strong volunteer program can be one of your organization’s best assets. People volunteer for a variety of reasons, such as a desire for leadership or sense of responsibility, to build their community visibility, for social connectedness, to meet requirements at school, out of a passion for your mission, or even to relieve loneliness. Besides adding an extra pair of hands to the mission, volunteers are often the one constant amid staff turnover and organizational change. (I’ve actually had volunteers help to train me in new roles.)

Building a volunteer program takes some planning up front, and I’ve got the first five things on the list:

  1. Define the roles that a volunteer needs to fill. Volunteers are board members, event planning committee members, service delivery support, and daily help. They might come in once a month or twice a week. With a little input, daily volunteers can help at the reception desk, manage mailings, build presentation packets, make thank you calls, and a plethora of other tasks.
  2. Build out job descriptions. Some roles will need job descriptions, which outline expectations and responsibilities and time commitments. This is especially true when recruiting for an event planning committee or board service project.
  3. Require proper paperwork. Intake forms are always needed, and background checks might be required. Knowing how to reach your volunteers is important, in the event that you have a special project, or the office is suddenly closed for some reason. I also use these intake forms to find out how the volunteer wants to help, and to gather information on medical needs, next of kin, and birthdays. Your organization (likely your governing board members) will need to decide if and when background checks are needed for each volunteer type.
  4. Prepare a space for daily volunteers to work, and ask staff members to plan ahead on projects that might be completed by a volunteer. This ‘Volunteer Corner’ should contain a table and chairs, a whiteboard with a listing of projects and instructions, and the resources needed to complete each project. Volunteers should be shown how to use the printer, where to find supplies, kitchen protocols….the same ‘first-day’ orientation that a new employee would need.
  5. Recognize your volunteers for their perseverance, their hard work, their friendly smiles, their network, and their willingness; it is key to building a strong team. Plan a potluck, bring doughnuts, leave thank you notes, or include them in staff celebrations.

Volunteers are the very fabric of America – one of the biggest assets available for the nonprofit sector. Giving their time and expertise, volunteers add value at every level of the organization. Board members help to preserve the mission and fiduciary viability of the agency, while other volunteers help with everything from raising money to stuffing envelopes.

The trend to volunteer has always existed but has risen in the last few years among all age sectors. Besides their time, 86% of volunteers donate to the organization they are helping, and 36% help to raise money and awareness for the organization’s work. Without fail, they help organizations to accomplish the work needed to fulfill the mission. Their passion and belief in the mission is contagious – speaking volumes when others realize they are doing the work for free.

Not sure where to get started with your volunteer program? Contact one of our fundraising professionals today to learn about how we can help!


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