What to Do Before Volunteers Walk in the Door

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You'd never recruit paid employees until you had actual jobs for them, job descriptions, knew how to supervise them, and what your expectations for them were. But, sometimes nonprofits start recruiting volunteers before the organization is ready.

Bad move. Even if just one volunteer has a bad experience, it could impede your efforts for years. Better to put in place a "human resources" plan for volunteers, similar to what you have for paid staff.

Before you start looking for volunteers, make sure that you follow these steps to prepare your organization.

Make sure that you understand your nonprofit's culture and work environment.

Each nonprofit organization has a personality.

For instance, is your organization formal in the way it sets up boundaries and chains of command? Or is it open, friendly, creative, and value-driven?

Perhaps it is chaotic and free flowing. Are employees serious or relaxed, humorous and friendly, or stiff and cold? Is the situation stable with employees feeling secure in their jobs or is it anxious and unstable with everyone worried about their future?

Is this a place you would recommend to friends or family as a good place to work or volunteer?

Make the match between culture and volunteer.

Hopefully, your organization is pleasant and friendly, but with clearly structured processes and expectations.

In any case, your organization's culture will determine the type of volunteer you recruit. If your office is hierarchical, you may want to find people who are comfortable following procedures and policies.

If it is loosely organized or entrepreneurial, you will want to look for individuals who are self-starters and who enjoy working with less structure and direction.

Analyze your workplace before you recruit volunteers, so you will be able to make a better match between volunteers and organization.

Make sure your organization is prepared for volunteers.

Does top management support volunteer work and appreciate the value volunteers can bring? Is the staff prepared and willing to help with interviewing, orientation, training, and supervising volunteers?

Have volunteer placements been thought out and defined? Are there volunteer position descriptions in place? Have you prepared recruitment materials such as brochures, flyers, and a volunteer handbook?

Is there a place for volunteers to work, with necessary supplies and available equipment? Are there policies, procedures and record keeping systems in place?

Resolve legal issues

Have you resolved any legal and liability issues pertaining to volunteer involvement? Are there systems in place for running background checks?

For evaluating the performance of volunteers and measuring the outcomes you'll expect? Is your insurance up-to-date and does it protect volunteers and the organization?

Prepare the staff.

Is staff ready to respond to the inquiries of potential volunteers and can they speak knowledgeably and enthusiastically about the mission and work of the organization?

Does your website have information about how to volunteer, who to contact, and photos of volunteers? 

Even when no specific recruiting has been done, your organization may receive inquiries from potential volunteers. Make sure that everyone in the office who receives calls from people expressing an interest in volunteering knows who is in charge of volunteer management and is prepared to transfer the call or forward a message. Never ask a volunteer to call back!

    Educate staff to recruit volunteers.

    Many of your organization's employees are in contact with potential volunteers every day. Do they know about the range of service opportunities available in your organization and where to refer individuals who express an interest in volunteering?

    Once you understand your organizational culture and have all of your systems in place, it is time to get on with your recruitment plans.

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