FAQ: Volunteer Management
There is a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for individuals, families, business, and community groups. Contacting the following organizations for more information will provide a great starting point in finding the most appropriate opportunity:
Decisions regarding the staffing of the volunteer program deserve careful consideration. How you go about designating or hiring the leadership of the program will be influenced by the goals you have for the utilization of volunteers.
While it should be obvious that your staffing plan must fit the number and functions of volunteers you anticipate, it may not be obvious how to develop a "formula" to determine the right "fit."
Identifying a Leader
The vast majority of people who direct volunteer programs do not do so as a full-time job. Rather, they work part-time at volunteer management while actually primarily filling a different function in the organization; they have been asked to assume leadership of the volunteer program in addition to their other responsibilities.
In many cases they were "anointed" into the leadership of volunteers; they did not seek the extra responsibility and felt they had little or no option when their administrator offered it to them. Additionally, they continue to view their original job description as their priority and try to "squeeze in" the volunteer program as a secondary set of tasks.
In terms of career goals, most of these part-timers have no interest in pursuing the volunteer management field. They see themselves rather as "social workers," "park rangers," "occupational therapists," or "probation officers" and consider the volunteerism "piece" of their jobs as something they will escape when they move up.
Logically, someone who sees volunteer leadership as secondary (perhaps even as distracting) will rarely give the type of direction to the program that will make it achieve its true potential. So why "anoint" a reluctant director of volunteers?
The first step is to decide whether or not you are able (or willing) to create a new budget line for a volunteer program staff member. Since the dollar value of volunteer services far exceeds the actual funds expended, it may be worthwhile to wait in creating or expanding your volunteer component until funds can be found. A special fund-raising event or a special grant request might create the first year's salary, especially if you plan to begin with a part-time staff member. At least this part-timer will devote all of his or her on-site time to the subject of volunteers.
And the time will be devoted willingly and enthusiastically because it will be this person's primary job responsibility. The difference in possible achievement of goals because of this factor of primary responsibility cannot be overestimated and outweighs even the time limitations of a shorter work schedule.
If a new budget line is absolutely not possible, then you should begin by discovering who on staff might actually want to learn about volunteer management. Even if the interested staff member functions in a work area that seems tangential to what you plan for volunteers, the factor of free choice should weigh heavily in favor of giving that staff member the responsibility for volunteers.
When I conduct workshops for people who are part-time directors of volunteers in addition to carrying other agency job responsibilities, I always ask whether they tried to clarify the following important points at the time they accepted their volunteer-related tasks:
- What exactly does "part time" mean? How many hours of the day or week will I be allowed to devote to volunteer management?
- In what ways will my present workload be decreased in order to "make room" for my new volunteer program responsibilities?
- At what level of program growth will my part-time status be reviewed to determine whether more time is needed for volunteer management or if the agency is ready for a full-time director of volunteers (not necessarily me)?
- What other agency resources will be made available to me in support of the new volunteer program?
- Does my immediate supervisor understand and completely accept the fact that my previous work patterns will now have to change, especially in terms of decreasing my former output in my primary area of service?
In all too many cases, these questions are not raised by either the new leader of volunteers or the CEO. Because so many of these issues require decision-making authority, it would be helpful for the executive to consider these and other questions before selecting an existing staff member to take on the added responsibility of the volunteer program.
Otherwise, volunteer management becomes nothing more than an addendum to an already busy schedule and, in fact, produces stress and tension among the staff as a whole.
It is probably just as pertinent to consider some of these issues even if a brand new employee will be hired to focus on leading the volunteer program as a sole responsibility, but on a part-time schedule. For example, at what point will you start thinking about increasing the number of work hours for the director of volunteers? Or, if you do not want to expand this position, at what level of growth will you consider the volunteer program "capped"?
Whether you delegate volunteer management to an existing staff member or hire a new part-time employee, also assign specific responsibilities for supporting the volunteer program to other agency staff. This makes it clear that volunteers will be part of everyone's job because they are now part of the organization's delivery of services.
For example, the public relations staff should help with recruitment, the bookkeeper with recordkeeping, and the clerical pool with correspondence. It is up to you to distribute the work where it logically belongs and to specify the chain of command between the new head of the volunteer program and those other staff members working on behalf of the volunteer program.
Even when you are ready and able to designate a full-time director of volunteers, other organizational personnel will continue to have support roles to play in assuring that the volunteers become part of the team.
Copyright CompassPoint Nonprofit Services. Made possible by the California Management Assistance Partnership. Excerpted from From the Top Down: The Executive Role in Volunteer Program by Susan J. Ellis, Energize, Inc.
The Council of Volunteer Administrators (COVA) of Metro Atlanta and the Georgia Association of Volunteer Administrators (GAVA) serve as a network for volunteer coordinators for Atlanta and Georgia, respectively.
As a rule, volunteer assignments are patterned along the job descriptions of paid staff. This is because volunteers are seen as helpers or assistants to employees. While there is nothing wrong with this frame of reference, it is also limiting. Why not try a more creative approach to designing ways volunteers can contribute?
Keep in mind that volunteers can be flexible, particularly in their schedules. It is safe to assume that the individual or community needs your organization is addressing exist around the clock. So focus on these needs without defining the "solution" within the confines of a Monday to Friday, nine to five parameter.
Here are a few examples of actual volunteer roles that highlight what can be done at unusual hours:
- A family counseling agency recruited volunteers to telephone assigned families at 7:00 a.m. on school days to provide structure and offer friendly support as parents were preparing their children for school.
- A hospital was able to provide additional night services, including a crisis hot line, by recruiting a corps of insomniac volunteers referred by their psychologists (a win-win situation).
- A national labor union involved its members in a project studying how blue collar workers are portrayed on television by asking for volunteers to watch and report on shows aired throughout a particular period.
- A park started a weekend campground patrol program by recruiting families to volunteer at specific camp sites for 48-hour shifts. The multi-generational volunteers proved to be effective role models for the weekend campers.
There are other criteria that can be used to design creative volunteer roles, especially if you free yourself from the model of what the paid staff does. Consider these examples—again, all are real:
- A juvenile detention center recruited physically disabled volunteers because it found that people in wheelchairs were able to confront teenage lawbreakers about making choices in more positive ways.
- A nursing home opened an after-school homework center for latchkey children at a nearby elementary school. It was hard to determine which age group was the most "served" by the interaction.
- A hospital created a set of videotapes in which young patients shared their hospital experiences to be shown by close-circuit television to other children receiving similar treatment.
- A municipal streets department recruited volunteer block representatives to act as communication liaisons whenever roadwork was going to create temporary detours or other inconveniences.
- A professional association offered members the chance to barter special skills for reduced registration at their annual conference. The biggest hit was the member who volunteered to give neck and shoulder massages in the conference headquarters room to frazzled committee members.
What do all of these examples have in common? They demonstrate how volunteers can meet special needs - often quite targeted needs requiring very part-time or even "off-time" availability. In most cases, these are tasks that would never become full-time jobs. And in some cases, they would never be paid for despite how much they add to the success of a venture.
In addition, these volunteer job descriptions make use of the unique talents or traits of the people contributing their time. No matter how expert employees may be, they still have a finite set of skills. Employees also tend to be homogeneous in terms of educational background and age range. Volunteers therefore diversify what the paid staff can offer to the recipients of service.
Make sure that volunteer assignments make use of younger and older people, distinct life experiences, different occupational skills, different languages, and new perspectives.
Finally, make use of the gift of volunteers to focus on one thing at a time. Employees must always divide their attention among a full client case load or to everyone requesting service. Volunteers, however, can be recruited specifically to spend all their hours on one child, one research project, one specialized task. This is a luxury with benefits to everyone.
When you let your creative juices flow beyond "staff assistant," you'll see the limitless possibilities for involving volunteers in meaningful work.
By Susan J. Ellis. Originally published in The NonProfit Times. Copyright CompassPoint Nonprofit Services. Made possible by the California Management Assistance Partnership.
One of the myths of the volunteer world is that daytime volunteers are an endangered species. In the past, organizations grew complacent in their dependency on female homemakers.
When women took paying jobs (though in fact some homemakers still exist), such agencies found themselves without their accustomed source of volunteers. The good news is that organizations willing to seek new pools of talent will end up with an even better corps of volunteers than before.
There is no secret about where to find middle-aged, adult volunteers available for weekday assignments: recruit from the large segment of the workforce who do not work "normal" hours. In fact, logic shows that "normal" hours are relative indeed. Think about all the jobs that require: shift work; predominantly evening hours; weekend days; or odd or flexible schedules.
A wide variety of institutions and businesses function twenty-four hours a day or at least on double shift. This means that many people who work 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. or 3:00 to 11:00 p.m. have discretionary time available overlapping the 9:00 to 5:00 agency day.
Even the night shift might be attracted to early morning volunteer work. If you select worksites close to your organization's location, one of your recruitment pitches can be: "help us out on your way to or from work with very little extra commuting."
Consider the range of people and skills available in 24-hour worksites: hospitals and residential treatment programs; many factories; television and radio stations; police and fire departments; telephone companies; hotels; the military; the Postal Service and overnight delivery companies.
In the same vein, it is easy to identify businesses employing people mainly in the evening hours. Such workers often sleep late after a long night at work, but are prospective volunteers in the afternoon. Some sites are: restaurants; theaters; newspapers; astronomy labs; janitorial services; computer services.
Quite a number of jobs require Saturday and/or Sunday shifts, thereby giving employees a full day or two off during the week: parks and recreation programs; most cultural attractions such as museums and historic sites; churches and synagogues; libraries; shopping malls; hair salons; sports and country clubs. Some jobs overlap categories, especially retail sales which employ people on the weekends and in the evenings.
Odd or "Free-to-Choose" Schedules
Some employed people work on changing, inconsistent, or temporary schedules. While this may make it difficult to place such volunteers in regular assignments, they are nevertheless excellent resources for volunteering that focuses on producing a result rather than requiring a time commitment. Consider: airline personnel; substitute teachers; "temps" of all sorts; long distance truck drivers; farmers; university faculty; collection agents.
A whole sub-category involves people who are self-employed or work on commission. They can choose to volunteer during a weekday and "make up" the work time later. For example: consultants; artists; anyone who works at home; sole practitioners in fields such as accounting or public relations; real estate agents.
It is probably worthwhile to point out that the higher a person rises in a company, the more flexibility s/he has in allocating his or her schedule. So you can consider top executives more likely weekday recruits than secretaries who have less choice.
How to Recruit These Folks
There is nothing mysterious about encouraging the people identified above to volunteer: go to them and ask. This may mean arranging to send someone from your organization to a worksite in the evening to talk with prospective candidates. Target a worksite with a campaign that shows employees you really want their involvement. The "we're in the same neighborhood" approach makes sense to people. So do volunteer job descriptions that make use of the skills these employees demonstrate on their paying jobs.
People whose work hours differ from the majority are motivated by the same things as any other prospective volunteer. If we expect people who work Monday to Friday, 9:00 to 5:00, to volunteer in the evenings or on weekends, why is it surprising that someone who works in the evenings would be willing to volunteer in the morning?
Ironically, loneliness may be a factor in favor of joining your organization—maybe the Saturday employee has few ways to have fun on his or her Tuesday off.
So don't believe that the volunteer pool is "drying up" because women are in the paid work force. The great news is that there are vast reservoirs of talent that the nonprofit community has simply never approached.
The sources identified here pose more of a challenge to the recruiter. But the necessity to reach out to these new places will result in a stronger and more diversified volunteer corps.
By Susan J. Ellis. Originally published in The NonProfit Times. Copyright CompassPoint Nonprofit Services. Made possible by the California Management Assistance Partnership.
The Financial Accounting Standards Board's (FASB) Statement No. 116 requires nonprofits to report certain contributions received from donors, including volunteer services. These rules mean your agency may need to include the value of certain volunteer services in its external financial statements.
While it is difficult to quantify, this figure helps nonprofits estimate a monetary value of volunteer service, and it quantifies volunteer time to show external audiences that it is a valuable resource.
According to Independent Sector, recent hourly dollar values of volunteer time are as follows:
Additional national and state-specific values as well as the methodology can be found at Independent Sector’s “Value of Volunteer Time” webpage.
Current tax laws permit volunteers who itemize their deductions to recognize expenses incurred while volunteering as "charitable deductions." Certain professions, such as lawyers and accountants, also may deduct the value of their time by using standard hourly rates.
Volunteers may not deduct the value of their time spent volunteering, however, they can deduct related out-of-pocket expenses such as phone calls, postage, and transportation costs.
If a volunteer uses their car to travel to and from their volunteer commitments, they can deduct the actual cost of gas and oil as well as parking fees and tolls. They can also claim other incidental expenses, such as the cost of cleaning a volunteer uniform.
If a volunteer is required to travel away from home overnight, they can deduct lodging costs and a portion of the amount spent on meals—as long as there is no "significant amount of personal pleasure, recreation or vacation" to the trip.
These out-of-pocket expenses are categorized as cash contributions and should be entered as such on the volunteer's tax return.