Volunteers are an integral part of many organizations. Why is role-based orientation and training of volunteers critical to organizations? What is the best method to orient and train volunteers to assure that their needs are met and to maximize the effectiveness of their contributions to the organization?
Volunteers often have a field of vision that extends over many parts of an organization. In addition they are often an integral part of many customer-facing functions and are exposed directly to stakeholders and their needs. How can organizations best utilize this perspective to garner information that can influence organizational plans, processes, and decisions?
Volunteers as Stakeholders
Volunteers are considered stakeholders in an organization. Although they are not paid participants in the organization, they are just as concerned with the success of the organization as others. Volunteers serve in many nonpaid capacities within nonprofit organizations by contributing time, energies and/or talents. According to Merril (2005), these contributions are critical to nonprofit organizations in the fulfillment of their missions. Volunteers generate enthusiasm and interest, helping to create a positive image of the organization in the community. In addition, volunteers can extend and augment the work of paid staff. Acting as community and public liaisons, they can focus on specific customer needs, and often provide one-on-one interactions with customers. This lecture will discuss further the roles of volunteers, training, and the maximization of their use within a nonprofit organization.
Morton (2006) suggests that many individuals will at some point in their lives work for a nonprofit organization. These organizations benefit from this type of workforce in many significant ways and at some point will need to recruit volunteers to support the organization. Competition for limited resources and available volunteers require organizations to understand their target audience.
During 2004-2005, approximately 28.8% of the population participated as a volunteer in some capacity. These volunteers averaged between the ages of 35 and 44, and most managed to blend family and volunteering. Knowing this demographic helps an organization determine the driving factors behind their volunteers and to also generalize needs and influences (Morton, 2006). This information is critical in designing recruitment plans. Attracting the volunteers allows organizations to be competitive with others, thus improving their success rate.
Volunteer Roles and Opportunities
The individual volunteer benefits from his/her interactions with nonprofits by having the opportunity to pursue an interest and consequently gain new information, develop new skills, or enhance existing knowledge. Volunteers develop leadership and social skills as they interact with paid staff, clients, and other volunteers. They develop personal pride and satisfaction as they help clients, and gain status while being recognized as experts in a specific area. Volunteers continue to develop their knowledge, often gaining considerable expertise from their experiences. They often augment their own resumes through volunteering in areas that may otherwise be closed to them through normal employment opportunities. Often interviewers consider volunteer activities as a deciding factor for the hiring process. For example, individuals who have very little work experience can rely on volunteer activities to provide proof of character and relevant practice in supplementing their resumes. In addition, there are often significant opportunities for future employment based on the skills and abilities volunteers gain during their unpaid tenure.
Communities also benefit from volunteerism. The services these volunteers provide assist individuals, families, and the community at large to address local needs and problems. They are often the ones closest to the community and as such are the most reactive. Greater enthusiasm and rapport develops when volunteers share their enthusiasm for the work they are doing and the organization with which they are affiliated. Therefore, they often encourage others to become involved.
Each organization should spend time considering why they would like to work with volunteers and develop a philosophy and detailed process for the overall engagement of volunteers. Volunteers should never be considered as “free help.” They should be viewed as extensions of professional and paid staff engaged in the fulfillment of the organization's mission. Each organization must decide how volunteers can most effectively and efficiently assist with their mission.
Volunteer managers play an important role in an organization. Merril (2005) states that managers must optimize the use of volunteers who eventually interact with all areas of the program. They must direct their recruitment activities toward locating individuals with the skills and personalities necessary for successful interactions. These volunteers will serve as liaisons between the needs of the organization and staff needs and rights. Volunteer managers are internal consultants who help paid staff identify opportunities for engaging volunteers in the organization's work, develop volunteer-staff relationships, design strategies for effective integration of volunteers in the organizational work, assess the impact of volunteer services for the clients and the organization, and serve as advocates for volunteers' rights and volunteerism within the organization and the community at large.
Orientation and Training
Recruiters should be clear about expectations with potential and newly hired volunteers. In order to recruit volunteers for a specific role, it is critical to develop a clear job description that includes to whom the volunteer reports, any general duties and responsibilities, and any specific tasks to perform (McNamara, 2003). Job descriptions might also include the level of expertise and education needed for the job, minimum requirements, etc.This description should also serve as the foundation for advertisements, training materials, and establishment of expectations.
After volunteers have been recruited and accepted, a role-based orientation should be provided. Orientation can be either a formal or an informal procedure, covering at minimum the role(s) the volunteers will be filling. How the organization conducts the orientation will be a key element in the successful utilization of their volunteers. An orientation that describes the expectations of the volunteer−and those of the organization−will help everyone involved clarify the volunteer−organization relationship (Graff, 2001). Training itself should take place based on the position each volunteer will be filling. Role play and individual instruction books are an integral part of this type of training. It is critical these volunteers have something to consult when questions arise.
Training needs and costs vary greatly based on the type of organization and its needs. For instance, an organization that uses many volunteers, some of whom directly serve people, will probably use a very comprehensive training system which includes direct supervision and a structured reporting system. However, an organization that occasionally uses volunteers to perform menial tasks without customer interaction might do a brief solicitation to recruit and provide minimal training, followed by alone time to perform their tasks (Ellis, 2003). With little interaction and even less oversight, these volunteers can perform their tasks quite easily with little supervision, resulting in a very limited impact on the budget.
Kipp (2009) explains that many nonprofit board members are volunteers. For integral positions such as the governing board, training will be extremely detailed and complicated. It takes time and experience to develop an understanding about governance and the appropriate processes and standards each board member represents. Kipp warns that most people join nonprofit boards because they believe deeply in the cause. Their passion sometimes obstructs deliberations, prevents closure on critical choices, or effects compromises. Therefore, careful guidance and strict adherence to ethical guidelines is required for newer board members. Typically, a mentorship arrangement works well to assist in the indoctrination of the new board members.
Volunteers bring unique and valuable perspectives to the organization. As stakeholders, volunteers typically take success or failure of the organization's mission personally. They often share their excitement about interacting in the organization, many with heartwarming tales from volunteer placements, insights about how the experience has changed them, and their belief in the organization's mission (Merrill, 2005). These interactions and feedback serve as an invaluable form of advertisement for the organization.
Maximizing Volunteer Involvement
Volunteers come to the organization with a multitude of resources : They bring experiences from their full-time positions and personal achievements, along with the ability to apply these to their volunteer roles. Viewing an issue through a new lens, an ability often found within a volunteer, will frequently capture new solutions and recommendations. For these reasons it is critical for the board of directors and managers to consider any suggestions or feedback. In fact, volunteers should be of vital concern to the board of directors. Ellis (2003) describes volunteers as an unpaid personnel department of untapped potential and enormous knowledge in the areas of public relations, fund raising, and community outreach. In addition, these volunteers are a source of valuable information for planning and evaluation purposes. It is critical for the board of directors and managers to ask the volunteers their thoughts (Merril, 2005) and incorporate them into the structure of the organization.
Each organization should spend time considering why they want to work with volunteers and develop a philosophy and process for their overall engagement. Volunteers should never be considered as free help, but rather as extensions of staff who are engaged in the fulfillment of the organization's mission through valuable skills and ideas (Merril, 2005).
Volunteers are valuable assets to a nonprofit organization. Not only do they bring the skills and resources that otherwise could not be afforded by the organization, they also bring interest and passion. Their interaction with the public is invaluable. Therefore, developing a process that recruits and trains high-quality volunteers is critical. It is also important to develop a feedback opportunity which respects and utilizes volunteers’ thoughts and ideas. These strategies will allow the organization to become more successful than it otherwise would have been.
Ellis, S. (2003). Do volunteers deserve the board’s attention? Nonprofit World, 21(1), 19-21. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.library.gcu.edu:2048/docview/221352173?accountid=7374
Graff, L.L. (2001). Policies for volunteer programs. In T. D. Connors (Ed.), The Nonprofit Handbook: Management (pp. 785-814). New York, NY: John Wiley.
Kipp, M. (Nov/Dec 2009) Rethinking the nonprofit board. Nonprofit World, 27(6), 20-21.
Merril, M. (2005). How volunteers benefit organizations. Retrieved from http://www.worldvolunteerweb.org/resources/how-to-guides/manage-volunteers/doc/how-volunteers-benefit-organizations.html
Morton, L. (Spring, 2006). Volunteers. Public Relations Quarterly51(1), 42-22.