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Utilizing Nonprofit Volunteers for Mutual Benefit

Utilizing Volunteers for Mutual Benefit

Every nonprofit relies on the help of volunteers to advance its mission and fulfill its goals. However, finding and retaining volunteers can be difficult if the volunteer experience you provide isn’t also beneficial for the volunteers themselves. 

While most volunteers help out of a genuine desire to support a community, very few have time to spare. As such, nonprofits must find ways to utilize their volunteers in a way that produces mutual benefits for both your organization and the volunteers themselves as they develop skills, networks, and opportunities in their own life paths. 

But how can you better provide this mutual benefit?

It comes down to the way you recruit volunteers, provide training and resources, and show appreciation for their help. Here’s how you go about cultivating opportunities volunteers will flock to. 

Clearly and Authentically Inform Prospective Volunteers

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in reaching out to prospective volunteers is giving them false expectations about what they will be doing. Many nonprofits have a hard enough time as it is retaining volunteers past more than one or two shifts. After all, that’s enough for many people to feel like they’re giving back at least in some small way. If their efforts to help aren’t what they expected, however, you can all but guarantee that volunteers won’t return. 

Instead, informing volunteers about the nature of the work and your expectations is one of the best ways to keep volunteers coming back. All your informative resources — from website landing pages to brochures — should maintain consistent and honest messaging about your various volunteer experiences. Without this, you risk putting off those who might otherwise want to give their time and labor.

That’s why many nonprofits make an effort to provide thorough volunteer manuals that address the ins and outs of what a shift will look like. Granted, it will be impossible to predict everything that will occur in the course of a volunteer event, but providing as much detail as possible will help. 

Here are some of the items to include in the information you provide to interested helpers:

  • Expected number of volunteer hours
  • Contact information for program supervisors
  • Rules and expectations surrounding volunteer work
  • Timelines and lists of expected duties
  • Resources to use when in need of assistance

Be sure to provide this information in a clear and accessible fashion, presented in a tone that is friendly and appreciative. Volunteers should only be surprised if the surprise is a pleasant one, so honestly and transparently communicate what it will mean to help. 

Provide Access to Resources and Training

From here, you should expand your volunteer resources to encompass more than just the basics. How-to guides are a great place to start in terms of training documentation, but in the digital age, your resources should go much further. 

One of the main reasons for this is that many volunteers are also interested in exploring what it takes to make a career out of humanitarian aid. These are people with big hearts, and a professional life dedicated to helping people will no doubt strike their interest. For this reason, nonprofits should make an effort to cultivate this passion in volunteers and keep them coming back. 

Resources and training are some of the best tools you can give these passionate citizens trying to make a difference in the world. From mentorships opportunities with nonprofit professionals to courses relating to nonprofit skills, there are all kinds of opportunities that volunteers will be eager to pick up. 

Make these career-building opportunities a part of the volunteering experience and ensure that your volunteers go away with more than just a good feeling. 

Show Genuine Volunteer Appreciation

Last but certainly not least, the loyalty of your volunteers will depend on how much they feel appreciated and fulfilled by the experience. No one wants to donate their valuable free time just to feel like they could have made more of a difference doing something else. To avoid leaving your helpers disappointed, you need to reiterate your appreciation for their work and the value it brings to your organization. 

A great place to start is by detailing the reasons why you need their help within training and outreach information. More volunteers will be interested in helping if you can explain exactly how the work they will be doing impacts the lives of others. This requires appeals to both logic and emotion.

For instance, answering phones for a nonprofit that provides homelessness prevention services may not be the most entertaining activity. However, you can keep volunteers motivated to keep coming back by restating the value of such a task for a community. Keeping people housed, for example, costs less to society than combatting homelessness after it occurs. Meanwhile, it also helps those who may be on the brink of homelessness.

At the beginning and end of every volunteer shift, tell volunteers again how their help has made a difference, and then make them feel appreciated for their help. This appreciation might take the form of a simple, genuine thank you or perks donated by local businesses. Just be sure to track volunteer hours both for your records and to better illustrate to volunteers how much you appreciate their time. 

Developing a Mutually Beneficial Volunteer Experience

By providing clear information, humanitarian resources, and genuine appreciation to your volunteers, you can create better experiences that benefit everyone involved. These features advance some of the most important work we do within society. 

No matter what reason brings a volunteer to your nonprofit, your goal should be to leave them with an experience they want to come back to. This means setting clear expectations, providing value, and showing their time means something to you.


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Amanda Winstead

Amanda Winstead is a writer from the Portland area with a background in communications and a passion for telling stories. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.