People often ask, what is the one thing my organization can do to ensure our volunteer programs success? This question tells me two things. One is organizations are continuing to look for the one thing that will make its volunteer program take off, and two I need to diversify my cocktail party conversation. But let’s look at this. Is there a one size fits all answer? Maybe not a total answer, but I do think there is one piece of the volunteer program success model that most often points towards success, staff buy-in.
Let’s start with an example that we hear often. An organization decides to make the volunteer program a priority, and submits an application to Volunteer Maryland to support this priority. Great! This is a positive step. Through the application, negotiation and placement of a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator (VMC) some staff are engaged in the process, which is typical as involving every staff member in this process could be cumbersome. The VMC begins serving within the organization, and starts recruiting volunteers. Volunteers begin to show up, and staff starts insisting that volunteers are just not needed. What happened? Reality happened. Kind of like wanting a baby, and having one. Babies are so darn cute, but the reality is they are demanding and life changing. Volunteers are not babies of course, but they do put a level of demands in terms of time and evaluation on staff that needs to be addressed while the organization is still in the “glint in the eye” phase. Not the 3:00 am, sleep deprived phase that developing a volunteer program brings.
So what have we seen that works? Talking. Yup, there it is, talking. Talking with staff about needing volunteers is a good step, but talking about staff roles is a better one. What are staff expectations? Are there any misconceptions concerning bringing in volunteers? Volunteers can be viewed as replacement staff, which is never a good idea. Talk about training needed for staff. How can you incorporate them in the development phase? Developing a leadership team for the volunteer program using program staff is a great way to evaluate the volunteer program, and build more investment. Lastly, keep talking. Staff changes and new volunteer opportunities could lead to a disillusionment of the once bouncing bundle of volunteer joy. Volunteers and the service they bring are great; make sure your staff feels that way, too. A little talking up front can build staff/volunteer relationships that produce results, and perhaps some great photos to share on your Facebook page.