Preparing Your Non-Profit for Volunteers


Volunteers are often essential to the success of a non-profit. However, it is important to ensure a proper “human resources” plan is in place before you begin recruiting them. Too frequently, organizations begin taking on volunteers before job descriptions, supervisors, or clear work expectations have been established. Rarely does this lead to a positive outcome. In fact, if a volunteer has a bad experience or feels that his or her efforts have gone to waste, your non-profit could face significant setbacks that make your goal more difficult to achieve.   

Fortunately, The Balance has put together a checklist of steps to take before your non-profit begins recruiting volunteers. Following these five steps will help make sure your volunteers—and by extension your non-profit—are best positioned for success.

1. Understand the Work Environment of your Non-Profit

No two non-profits are the same, especially when it comes to their “culture” and work-environment. Be aware of whether the culture at your organization is more formal, with strict chains-of-command and clearly delineated boundaries, or more laidback, open and friendly. Is your work environment organized or is it messy? Are the paid staffers secure in their positions or is there rampant anxiety about turnover? And be honest with yourself: Is this a place you would want a family member or friend to volunteer?

2. Find Volunteers That Match Your Work Environment

If your work environment is more formal and rigidly structured, take on volunteers that are comfortable following protocol and procedure closely. If your culture is more laidback, you may want to find volunteers that are self-starters and require less managing. Understanding your work environment will help you find volunteers that not only bring the most value to your organization, but also ones that will feel comfortable and happy to be there.

3. Make Sure Your Organization Is Ready for Volunteer Work

While people may want to volunteer for your organization, perhaps at this juncture your organization is not ready for volunteers. Before bringing them on, be sure that upper management is supportive of volunteer work and the staff is willing to help interview, train and supervise volunteers. Be sure you have clear job descriptions for volunteers and the necessary tools and supplies for them to succeed at their job.

4. Resolve Any Potential Legal Issues Before They Arise

Does your organization have procedures in place to run background checks and job performance measurements? Are there any liability issues at your non-profit? Is there any possibility of preventable workplace injury? Is your insurance up-to-date? Make sure your legal bases are covered before the first volunteer interview.

5. Get Your Team Ready for Volunteers

Volunteers may contact you even if you haven’t done any specific recruiting, so it is important that your staff can speak knowledgeably and enthusiastically about your organization’s mission. Make sure your website contains information on how to volunteer and who to contact if volunteers are interested. In the event they get a call from a potential volunteer, everyone on staff should know who to direct a volunteer to in terms of the main point of contact.

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