The NonProfit Times reports that a recent surge in volunteering proves right existing research that shows that volunteerism surges in times of crisis. Between COVID-19, social justice concerns, and everything else that 2020 has brought to the table, it’s no surprise that the public is eager for opportunities to help their communities. Likewise, pandemic lockdowns have led to record-setting job losses; volunteering is one way for those out of work to stay engaged and improve their chances of securing another job.
While many nonprofits may be enjoying the surge in volunteerism, relying on volunteers can come with its share of risks. Still, abiding by a few key practices can ensure that both the nonprofit organization and its volunteers get the most out of the experience.
It’s important for nonprofit organizations to screen their volunteers before bringing them onboard. Like the interview and application process for a paid employee, nonprofits should screen volunteers to make sure they fully understand the nonprofit organization and the scope of the volunteer position and to gauge whether they will be a positive addition to the nonprofit organization’s existing team. If they will be dealing with sensitive information or are in direct contact with a vulnerable population, consider conducting a formal background check or asking for references.
To make a volunteer program successful, it’s important to welcome and orient volunteers in a way that makes them feel both appreciated and confident in their ability to assist the organization. Strategies such as a welcome meeting to meet the team, assigning mentors, and an organized training program that covers the organization’s history, structure, mission, values, and goals and the relevant procedures for conducting its work, will ensure new volunteers feel welcome and confident. Frequent check-ins to see how they are managing will ensure an open line of communication.
Anyone who works for an organization (whether paid or volunteer) can trigger a nonprofit organization’s potential liability. Likewise, it only takes one misstep by a misinformed volunteer to create reputational ruin. That’s why nonprofits need to make sure that all volunteers are adequately trained and informed of, and affirmatively agree to abide by, the nonprofit organization’s policies and procedures. Of course, the level of training and information required will vary depending on the volunteer position. A one-day event may only require a short pre-event briefing and that volunteers sign a short participation agreement and waiver. In contrast, a routine in-office volunteer who handles sensitive data may require more comprehensive training.
Providing adequate supervision, communication, and mentorship for volunteers can help avoid misunderstandings and will ultimately lead to a more positive experience for everyone involved. If volunteers provide critical information to the public, working with potentially sensitive or private information, or working one-on-one with individuals, careful supervision is a must.
Once you have built a successful volunteer program – don’t forget to recognize your volunteers’ efforts. Make sure volunteers know their efforts are appreciated. Appreciation letters, emails, certificates, events, or even simple phone calls from staff will help ensure volunteers remain engaged and ready to serve or even recommend service to their friends and families.
Once a nonprofit organization has thought through it’s screening, onboarding, risk management, training, supervision, and recognition procedures, the volunteer program is poised for success.
Ellis Carter is a nonprofit lawyer with Caritas Law Group, P.C. licensed to practice in Washington and Arizona. Ellis advises nonprofit and socially responsible businesses on corporate, tax, and fundraising regulations nationwide. Ellis also advises donors with regard to major gifts. To schedule a consultation with Ellis, call 602-456-0071 or email us through our contact form.