Is Your Volunteer Program Volunteer-Centric?

What does it mean to have a volunteer-centric program and why would you want one?  Volunteers are the heartbeat of most nonprofits.  The work simply could not get done without volunteers giving of themselves and their time and talents to ensure the mission can be fulfilled.

“Centric” is an adjective meaning “in or at the center”; central. So a volunteer-centric program has the volunteer in or at the center; central to the program.  But how do you move to a volunteer centric program?  Here are four suggestions to help get you started:
1.  Seek out input from your volunteers. People always have more buy-in when their ideas and thoughts are solicited and heard. Your volunteers are the ones doing the work and while doing it, they see and think of better, more effective, more efficient ways of doing the job. Are you open to their ideas for improvement? Do you ask for their input?
2.  Involve your volunteers in developing key volunteer roles and job descriptions. Volunteers are positioned to see, first hand, what work needs to be done and what may be falling through the cracks. Involve key volunteers when you are developing or revising roles and responsibilities to increase your success and increase their sense of involvement.
3. Create a menu of ways your volunteers can engage.  You may have volunteers who sign on for one job and don’t want to do anything else.  More than likely, you have volunteers who would like to learn and grow with your organization so it would be good to give them growth options. Are there volunteer leadership roles they can fill? Are there other departments or areas they can support? Can they move up a volunteer ladder with your organization? Creating a menu of engagement gives your volunteers the diversity of work many of them need.
4. Thank, thank, thank, and recognize. You cannot say ‘thank you’ too often.  Your volunteers are giving you their time, their head and their heart – for free. They deserve to be thanked and recognized. In order for the recognition to be effective, it needs to be tailored to the volunteer. Do you know your volunteers well enough to tailor the recognition? Perhaps you have a “menu” of recognition items they could choose from?  Perhaps they think recognition items are a waste of your limited funds. Saying “Thank You” doesn’t cost a dime.  Make sure you don’t take them for granted.
If you haven’t done it already, take your volunteer hours contributed in the last year and multiply them by the hourly wage you would have had to pay to get the same work done.  You will quickly see how valuable your volunteers are and why you need to have a volunteer-centric program.  Seek their input; involve them in creating roles needed; give them a menu of ways to engage; and thank and recognize them in a meaningful way. They are free ambassadors for your mission and your organization and they are worth your extra time and attention.

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