Volunteers are an integral part for the success of most nonprofits. These well-intended resources can help span the numerous staffing gaps that might otherwise exist without their help. If it were not for their willingness to work, the average nonprofit may not be able to serve their constituents on a larger scale.
Our recent economic conditions have brought forth a new wave of talent in today’s volunteer. From seasoned professional to newly-minted college graduate, these volunteers can offer a new set of skills and experience rarely seen in the past. College grads serving as unpaid interns, or professionals that may be between employment engagements, are eager to add their ‘special sauce’ to the organization’s recipe.
Therein lies the rub. Too many cooks (can) spoil the broth. Whereas the nonprofit is eager to accept additional help, asking for repetitive volunteer skills can cause conflict and collision in the outcome. Without careful planning on the part of the nonprofit, you will soon find volunteers overlapping each other in their recommendations and actions.
One common example is in the area of Corporate Communications, a.k.a., Corporate Comm. Often under the responsibility of the Membership Director, Director of Development or Fundraising Director, communications is an area of great need, but equally spread thin for many nonprofits. Excited to get the word out nonprofits will enthusiastically accept assistance in this area. But, for the volunteer, frustration will quickly set in if they find that someone else is working on the same project, in a slightly different way. They will be left wondering why they were asked to do it in the first place, if someone else was already working on it. There is also the potential for professional jealousy; “Why did you choose his/her work over mine?”
How can you avoid this conflict? Consider volunteer requirements much like a job description for paid staff. Have a clearly defined role and responsibilities outlined for the volunteer, and make it known for the staff to better understand the volunteer’s contribution. Also, if the requirement is greater than a single volunteer can handle, break out the job proportionally and offer segments of the work to the individual that is best suited to complete the task. Set time aside to have regular meetings with each volunteer as well as bringing them together as a group; encourage collaboration and team spirit across those individuals serving in similar roles.
Creating a balance in service and skills can be much like adding just the right herb or spice to a popular recipe. These careful additions can add zest and exhilaration to a favorite dish; a delicacy your constituents will crave for more.