I recently began volunteering for three organizations at different stages in their development. On a virtual basis, I’m helping a social entrepreneur on the West Coast who is applying for her 501c-3 designation. We’re working to narrow her focus in terms of both audience, program and delivery. I’m also helping a local charity that’s been serving our community for the past four years with a wonderful educational program. We’re developing a strategic fundraising model leveraging the support of several very generous donors that are already committed to the success of the organization. Finally, I’m about to begin extensive training to work directly with clients for a long-standing government/nonprofit agency that provides services for young people in challenging circumstances.
I feel privileged to have the chance to do the above – these organizations are doing transformative work. Volunteering also allows me to learn, practice and utilize several very different skill sets. With the entrepreneur, I’m taking on a coaching role by sharing what I learned when I launched my nonprofit organization. With the educational nonprofit, I’m taking on a project that will move the organization forward. It provides me with an opportunity to consult and take on a need that taps into my existing skill set. And finally, as a volunteer with the larger agency, I’m learning so much more about the social service sector as well as having the chance to directly impact others, a facet of volunteering I believe many of us are looking for.
My experience demonstrates some best practices worth building into our volunteer programs. Stating the obvious, volunteer opportunities must have a positive impact on those we serve. At the same time, volunteer programs have the best chance for success when they offer something of value to your volunteers. Here are five ways you can ensure engagement, learning and skill building for individuals that want to work with your charity:
1. A Range of Time Commitments: Offer volunteering options with a range of time commitments. Can a volunteer do something meaningful if he just has an hour to give? What about a day or a week? Can a volunteer work on a project basis? It’s worth figuring out how you can leverage any volunteer’s offer of time in a meaningful way.
2. Skill Building Opportunities: Provide volunteers with opportunities to learn and develop new skill sets. Move away from the typical approach of “you’re an accountant so we’ll put you on the finance committee.” Instead, ask your volunteers what professional and personal skills they’re looking to build on. You may be amazed to find that the lawyer on your Board is eager and adept at helping you with brand development and design. Just ask.
3. Leadership Development: Make sure you offer individuals chances to lead. With CSR coming into its own, corporate participants are not only looking for opportunities to give back to communities, they’re looking at volunteerism as a training ground for their future leaders. Be the organization they’re eager to partner with to accomplish these and other goals.
4. Group/Team Projects: Have a steady mix of projects that a group or team can work on together. Can a team of corporate volunteers’ mentor clients or even some of your staff in business skills? Or how about a community mapping project? Just because your organization doesn’t have a school that needs to be painted doesn’t mean you can’t engage volunteer teams. Get creative.
5. Local and Virtual: If possible, build in a virtual element into your volunteer program. I continue to be amazed at the creativity of platforms that provide volunteers the chance to mentor students, entrepreneurs and others in need through platforms like www.micromentor.org and www.icouldbe.org to name just a few. I recognize this isn’t possible for every organization but if it works for yours, go for it.
I’d love to hear from you about your program and what’s working.
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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