SBV and Volunteer Engagement: Using the Cycle of Volunteer Program Development (part 1)

When one thinks about volunteerism, what comes to mind?  People usually associate volunteering with good.  A person will volunteer because they want to “give something back” or “make a difference”.  There is always something admirable about giving time, effort, and energy for free.

Recent trends in volunteerism (yes, people actually study volunteer trends) have shown a greater reliance on volunteers to help with sustainability as nonprofits look to cut costs while not cutting services.  This increased dependence on volunteers has also raised some interesting questions regarding volunteer management tactics.  Is it possible to manage someone who isn’t being paid? What keeps a person from leaving when they aren’t receiving compensation?  While many theorists, organizations, and reports have debated the issues of civic engagement and volunteer management, it remains clear that keeping volunteers engaged is a very large part of volunteer retention.

While there are a million different ways that volunteers can be engaged, maximum engagement of volunteers (in my opinion) can be achieved using Skills-Based Volunteering (SBV).  According to the Hands On Network ( skills-based volunteering provides organizations with the opportunity to leverage the skills of their volunteers by matching them with opportunities that will allow them to use those talents to aid in building the organization’s capacity.  SBV can be both on an individual level or a corporate level.

I recently had the opportunity to take an educational mini-course sponsored by the Hands On Network on the topic of Skills-Based Volunteering.  As a Regional Coordinator for Volunteer Maryland, it is important for me to find resources for the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators with whom I work that will help them manage volunteer programs at nonprofit organizations around the state of Maryland. Volunteer Maryland (VM)is an AmeriCorps program dedicated to building the capacity of nonprofit organizations by providing them with specially-trained Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (VMCs). VM uses the Cycle of Volunteer Program Development, a model designed by VM to help VMCs navigate their year as managers and coordinators of volunteer programs at various organizations. The Cycle divides program development into three parts: The Big Picture, Foundation Building, and Program Implementation.

 Looking at the SBV mini-course sponsored by the Hands On Network and Phoenix University, one can see that it echoes the cycle used by Volunteer Maryland and our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators.  The module had exercises that gave individuals, nonprofits, and businesses the opportunity to assess their skills, assess the need for establishing an SBV program, and assess the benefits of nonprofit partnership within an SBV program.  The exercise caused me to look at SBV as the vein through which organizations following the Cycle of Volunteer Program Development can establish a viable and sustainable volunteer programs that foster stability in times of financial instability.

Every organization will ask at some point, “Why would a person want to volunteer with us?”  The responses will usually involve the organization’s mission as well as the need for the services provided and the benefits or impact of those services.  Humans generally want to believe that other humans are good and thus, if a need is communicated effectively; it will tug on people’s heartstrings and generate a flood of willing volunteers who want to help change the world.  The reality is that all organizations have a mission and are dedicated to a particular cause.  Having a good cause, while noteworthy, doesn’t necessarily set your organization apart as THE place to volunteer.

Building a volunteer program that touches all aspects of the organization allows an opportunity for organizational growth and development. This presents an opportunity for deeper engagement of volunteers because in addition to knowing they contributed to the mission of the organization, they also have the added bonus of knowing they contributed to building capacity for the organization itself. Looking at Volunteer Maryland’s Cycle of Volunteer Program Development, we see that SBV is an excellent opportunity for organizations to engage volunteers in building capacity.


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