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Volunteer management: A complete step-by-step guide for non-profit organizations

Anyone working in the non-profit sector knows just how vital volunteers are. Volunteers help with everything from fundraising to emergency response. In fact, some non-profits would not exist without volunteers.

Let’s put the impact of volunteers into perspective:

It’s clear that volunteers are essential to so many non-profits. However, volunteers don’t receive compensation or employee status under the law. Since they have fewer obligations to the organization, they could leave at any time. This makes proper volunteer management crucial. Volunteer management involves attracting, recruiting, and supervising volunteers, as well as keeping them engaged.

To help your non-profit organization make the most of your volunteers, we put together a complete step-by-step guide with tips to help you through your journey!

Step 1: Differentiate between volunteer and paid positions

When your non-profit has a mix of volunteers and paid staff, it’s best to keep their job duties and job titles distinct. As you plan for different roles in your organization, think about these questions:

  • What tasks need to be completed by employees?
  • What skills and qualifications do employees need to complete their tasks?
  • What tasks need to be completed by volunteers?
  • What skills and qualifications do volunteers need to complete their tasks?

Clearly outline the difference between employee duties and volunteer duties. This can help prevent conflict that may occur if volunteers and paid staff complete the same work but receive different treatment.

Pro tip: Employment standards legislation may require someone to meet certain conditions to qualify as a volunteer instead of an employee. Make sure you understand any legal distinctions!

Step 2: Create a job description

Now that you have outlined the differences, create job descriptions for both paid roles and volunteer roles. Job descriptions help match the best candidate to the role and communicate expectations.

Employees may feel reluctant to bring up a volunteer’s performance issues, since volunteers offer their time for free. By having clear expectations for employees and volunteers, it will keep everyone on the same page. Aim to hire paid employees who will work well with volunteers by including volunteer management duties in their job description.

When writing your volunteer job description, keep these best practices in mind:

  • Write clear and compelling descriptions.
  • Outline the responsibilities of the roles and the skills required.
  • Communicate the time requirements.
  • Specify the training and support volunteers will receive.
  • Explain how the role contributes to your organization’s goals and mission. Volunteers want to know they will be making an impact!

Pro tip: When responsibilities are clearly communicated, people know what to expect and are more likely to stay on. Not a fan of writing job descriptions? There are tools and templates for that! Check out our Job Description Generator, which can help you easily create customized and comprehensive job descriptions.

Step 3: Start recruiting volunteers

Recruiting is a great way to connect with potential volunteers, as well as to spread the word about your non-profit. Not sure where to start? Here are a few volunteer recruitment ideas:

  • Host a recruitment event. Schedule in-person and virtual informational sessions as a casual way for potential volunteers to learn about your organization, meet the staff, and see what opportunities are available.
  • List your volunteer opportunities with a local volunteer centre, in the neighbourhood newspaper, or on websites and databases for volunteers.
  • Post about new opportunities on your website and social media.
  • Share upcoming opportunities with your donors. This is a nice way to keep them engaged and encourage them to get more involved with your organization.
  • Reach out to current volunteers. Word of mouth is one of the best recruitment strategies! Invite your volunteers to share opportunities with their network and encourage them to bring a friend to your next event.
  • Form meaningful partnerships in your community and engage volunteer teams, such as school groups or corporate teams.

Pro tip: Make it as easy as possible for people to get involved. Before you start recruiting, check that your website is up to date. Include a simple online form where volunteers can apply for positions or sign up to learn more.

Step 4: Select and screen your volunteers carefully

It may be tempting to accept any and all volunteers, especially if you need extra help. However, finding a good fit for the opportunity or even tailoring an opportunity to a volunteer’s skills and needs will be more beneficial in the long run.

Consider following a recruitment process just like you would for a paid position. Ask for a résumé and go through a formal selection process to help you evaluate a volunteer’s commitment level early on.

Here are some interview questions you could ask during the volunteer selection process:

  • What makes you a good fit for this volunteer position?
  • Can you describe your previous volunteer experience?
  • What skills can you bring to this position?
  • What accomplishment are you most proud of as a volunteer?
  • Do you prefer to work with a team or by yourself?
  • Why would you like to volunteer for our organization?

After selecting your volunteers, remember to complete reference and background checks and, where necessary, police records checks and vulnerable sector checks.

Pro tip: Interviews are a two-way street. While you assess the fit of a potential volunteer, you also want to sell the role. Volunteers help contribute to your organization’s goals, but what will they get out of volunteering? Whether it’s gaining work experience, developing additional skills, or contributing to a worthy cause, make sure to emphasize the benefits of joining your non-profit.

Step 5: Onboard and train your new volunteers

Just like employees need a robust onboarding process, volunteers also need to be welcomed and trained. Outline all their responsibilities and performance expectations, as well as your organization’s policies and guidelines. Volunteers, like employees, also need training on topics like accessibility, workplace violence and harassment, and occupational health and safety, including workplace hazards.

Provide role-related training so that the volunteer feels confident to take on their assigned tasks. Depending on their duties, training could be watching a quick video, reviewing documents, or attending multiple training sessions. Consider assigning all new volunteers a mandatory training shift.

Remember to keep an active role throughout the training process! Let volunteers know how to reach a staff member if they have questions during or outside of their shift hours. Check in with your volunteers often to see how things are going and to address any concerns.

Pro tip: While we all hope volunteers will be an excellent fit, sometimes they don’t work out the way we expect. It may be a case of unsatisfactory performance, misconduct, or even negligence. Resolve issues promptly or they may decrease morale, lower your quality of service, and even damage your reputation. Keep confidential records of any disciplinary action and of your volunteer’s progress in general. These records will come in handy if you’re asked to be a reference after a volunteer leaves your organization.

Step 6: Keep your volunteers engaged

You have a stellar team of volunteers. How do you keep them engaged and eager to continue volunteering with your non-profit?

It’s first important to understand a volunteer’s motivations and interests. If they don’t find fulfilment or don’t meet their personal goals, they may leave. Try to tailor each volunteer’s experience towards their goals. For example, is a volunteer there to learn new skills? Find out what skills they are hoping to develop and offer opportunities to flex those skills.

Here are three more volunteer engagement strategies to try:

  • Communicate consistently. Whether it’s through e-mail, text, or an app, make sure your volunteers are aware of any changes, especially time-sensitive updates. Send shift reminders, announcements, and thank you e-mails.
  • Create leadership opportunities. Offer your most passionate volunteers the opportunity to lead an event or team. Show that you value their skills and longstanding commitment.
  • Encourage socialization and community. Many people volunteer to meet like-minded people. Aim to create a fun environment that nurtures friendships and connections.

Pro tip: Use a survey tool to gather information from your volunteers about what interests them, why they are there, and what they hope to get from their volunteer experience. Volunteer feedback can also help you improve your operations or organizational culture. With our Survey and Forms tool, you can get access to ready-to-use templates to help you collect real-time feedback!

Step 7: Recognize your volunteers

Showing your volunteers that you value their commitment can go a long way and help with retention. There are many ways to recognize your volunteers. First, consider their reasons for volunteering. If they are there to make a difference, let them know the impact they are making. A study by Volunteer Canada found that 80% of volunteers want to be recognized by being told the impact of their work, yet less than 60% of organizations do this. It’s important to provide meaningful recognition that’s timely and honest.

These are a few other ideas to show appreciation for your volunteers:

  • Send personalized thank-you notes.
  • Host a volunteer appreciation event or awards ceremony.
  • Give verbal acknowledgement of a job well done.
  • Film a thank-you video from your staff or the community.
  • Hand out t-shirts, tote bags, or other branded swag.
  • Highlight a volunteer of the month in your newsletter.
  • Bring in snacks or treats, like coffee or pastries.

Pro tip: Have long-time volunteers you want to recognize? Celebrate their milestones and submit applications for regional and national volunteer awards on their behalf.

Ready to make the most of your volunteers?

Volunteers are an invaluable resource for non-profit organizations. By going through each of our suggested steps, you can set up your organization and your volunteers for success. If you have questions or need help along the way, Live HR Advice offers on-demand phone support from our team of HR professionals. Reach out with any HR question, big or small, and our advisors will be happy to help!