A Culture of Volunteerism

What does a culture of volunteerism mean to you?  It looks a little intimidating on first sight, not a phrase that I would use in the course of an average day.  So why am I writing about it?  At this month’s training, our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators and their Site Supervisors took part in roundtable discussions, with one of the topics being “Developing an Organizational Culture of Volunteerism”.

Joining on that conversation was a great opportunity to learn what that phrase meant in practice, and to hear how important it is to an organization successfully making volunteers a part of the team.  We’ve seen that a nonprofit can flourish when it utilizes volunteers as a full part of an organization’s work.  So what impediments prevent that seemly natural partnership from taking root?

Some of the things that came up in discussion were: getting the needed infrastructure in place, and resistance to change.

Recruiting and training volunteers is a scary idea for any time-strapped staff member.  One suggestion is to reframe the use of volunteers: show the value of that investment.  Would you turn down the offer of a grant?  No, you would find a way to make it happen.  Volunteers are worth that consideration too!

One of our Volunteer Maryland Coordinator described her strategy of sitting down with each staff member to assess what their volunteer needs are.  She then builds orientations and training specialized for each volunteer need.  But sometimes, if may be even better for the staff members to create those volunteer positions themselves.  They know what they need better than anyone else, and by creating a volunteer position now can get a volunteer with exactly the skills they need.

Another Volunteer Maryland Coordinator said that her service site’s staff meeting, she would use her time to speak to highlight one exceptional volunteer that month, but  also a staff member who had a done a great job of embodying the welcoming spirit and volunteer-employee partnership.  This also allowed her to reward the staff member for their great work, while also encourage a change in thinking.

I’m glad that I joined this discussion of volunteerism – it reinforced that nonprofit organizations can gain from a volunteer-friendly environment.  Training staff (and maybe even yourself!) to treat volunteers as a part of the organization, and not just ancillary elements, is key to successfully integrating volunteers and creating a new culture.  All of the pieces need to be working together to achieve the best results.  What techniques have you been using to create a culture of volunteerism?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A new wave of volunteer talent is building. Some nonprofit leaders will take advantage of this opportunity and exponentially grow their impact; the rest will be left behind trying to make do the old way. 

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