Valuing Volunteers

How valuable are volunteers? The quantifiable answer is $22.55 per hour.* But that number doesn’t account for the intangibles, such as enthusiasm, creativity, and dedication, that volunteers may bring to the table.

Nonprofit organizations are faced with many challenges: to implement programs, to maintain operations, and to carry out their mission. The difference between successfully meeting these challenges and falling short may be dependent, at least in part, on the organization’s volunteers.

Prospective volunteers can pick and choose among numerous charitable organizations. If you want to attract and retain talented volunteers, give them as many reasons as possible to choose yours.

Not “Just” Volunteers

Volunteers and paid employees are alike in more ways than they are different. Be sure that those who offer their time and talents free of charge are not treated as “just” volunteers. You can help them feel like they’re part of the team right away by introducing them to staff members, executives, and board members.

It also helps to create written job descriptions for all volunteer positions. Give new recruits an overall picture of how they fit in and explain the roles that other volunteers play. You might even want to create job titles. Meet with volunteers frequently to get their feedback, and encourage them to attend staff meetings (when appropriate).

Volunteers coming from the for-profit world may need time to transition to the nonprofit model. Encouraging their feedback during this period could provide you with valuable ideas and insight.

Building Teams

Your volunteers probably spend less time working than your paid staff does. To keep them up to speed and engaged, you’ll want to provide adequate oversight and supervision, especially in the beginning. Not all volunteers will be happy doing everything you ask. Whenever possible, match a volunteer’s skills and interests with suitable tasks. Be sure you have the tools and resources volunteers need to do their jobs. And try to rotate mundane or uninteresting jobs among volunteers.

Boosting Retention

Volunteers who have a meaningful and satisfying experience will be more committed. But keeping them engaged and empowered can be a challenge. High volunteer turnover can be as disruptive as high staff turnover. If volunteer retention is a problem, you may need to do some rearranging so you can better accommodate volunteers.

Professionals are used to being involved at high levels. If you have a highly skilled volunteer who is still working, would you be willing to rearrange some work schedules to accommodate that person? Would you consider involving that person in the decision-making process?

Just Rewards

Reward valued volunteers by publicly recognizing their commitment and dedication to your organization. Create a “volunteer of the month” program, for example. Or present certificates of appreciation. If you publish a print or electronic newsletter, profile one or two volunteers each issue or dedicate an entire issue to your volunteers each year. If you have the resources, consider organizing a volunteer appreciation ceremony or event.

Help with Technology

These days, volunteers will expect you to have at least the basics when it comes to technology. If you’ve had to put it on the back burner or your capabilities are lagging due to a lack of technology expertise, look for volunteers who have the necessary skills to bring your organization up to speed.

Here Come the Baby Boomers 

Their careers are behind them and they have lots of free time. As large numbers of the Baby Boomer generation (those born from 1946 to 1964) reach retirement age, many are looking for opportunities to “give back” through volunteering. This could be your opportunity to recruit some highly talented volunteers.

There are some fundamental differences between previous generations of retirees and Baby Boomers. Baby Boomers don’t like to think of themselves as getting older. It’s generally best to stay away from terms like “seniors” in your recruitment materials.

Members of this generation are driven to succeed. But they also want credit for what they accomplish. Instead of asking people to “volunteer,” consider asking them to “share their skills.” Finally, many Baby Boomers are comfortable with social networks, blogs, and other online communities, so plan to expand your volunteer search by reaching out over the Internet.

If you have any questions about your nonprofit organization, please contact Warady & Davis LLP at (847) 267-9600.

* Estimated value of volunteer time for 2013, Independent Sector


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