I have a dear friend who is warm, giving, and charitable. But she is a terrible volunteer. And she admits it. Regular volunteer projects (paint a school, picking up trash, reading to kids) just bore her or make her uncomfortable.
Here’s the secret about my friend, she’s actually an amazing volunteer if you need someone to write or edit something. But she hardly ever gets asked to volunteer in a way that matches her skills. Non-profit organizations lose her in the shuffle of all the other relationships they have to manage so she hardly ever gets asked. At the end of the year, this friend of mine gives generously, but only to organizations she knows well, usually ones she’s volunteered with.
This is a common issue with skills-based volunteers – those volunteers that give their time in their specific area of expertise. Volunteer opportunities are not scheduled on a regular basis, so it’s hard to remember to call on folks for help. The team at Starfish Impact has spoken to a lot of organizations about expanding volunteer opportunities and it seems like a lot of organizations think they don’t have time to cultivate a skills-based volunteer force, so we’ve put together four easy steps for working with high-level volunteers.
- Unite the volunteer department with the development department. It’s a fact that your next donor is highly likely to have volunteered with your organization, so make sure that your volunteer coordinator and your development staff are on the same page. As the development team talks to donors and potential donors, they can listen for opportunities for the person to engage with the organization on a deeper level and pass their name onto the volunteer coordinator.
- Plan a few skills-based volunteer options to start. Rather than inventing opportunities as they arise (“You’re an accountant? Oh I’m sure we could find something for you to do.”), have a few opportunities in mind and put the rest on hold until you get a system down pat. Your best volunteer opportunities for high-level people are probably in marketing, communications, design, and finance. Think ahead of time about the project, the timing, and what the commitment looks like for that volunteer. Make sure the project has a distinct start and stop, so the volunteer feels a sense of satisfaction once it is complete.
- Keep great lists. For each category of volunteer opportunities, make a list in your database, in outlook, or even in a spreadsheet that has everyone’s name and contact information. When the need for volunteers arises, make sure to email that list early in the process to see who is willing to lend a hand.
- Schedule in advance. If you’ve made a great list of marketing people that are willing to look over your annual report, edit a development letter, or re-write some website copy, use your calendar to remind yourself every quarter to check in with this list with a thank you or a small project. Keep them engaged and involved and they will be loyal to you for a long time.
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