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What I Wish I Had Known Before… Volunteering for a Nonprofit

Volunteering for a nonprofit is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Like the volunteers that contribute their time, nonprofit organizations vary widely in scope and size, and their capacity to manage volunteers is no different.

The strength of an organization’s volunteer program is dependent on many factors, such as; staff needed to direct the program, funds available for support, and the volunteer population that exists to give their time. Volunteers provide a critical role in the operation of nonprofit organizations no matter what their size, and for many nonprofits, they simply couldn’t operate without volunteer labor.  

Often times, volunteers sign-up with a strong altruistic desire to contribute to the mission of the organization. They view giving their time as their contribution to the cause and see it as a way to create change. While volunteers are widely valued and revered for their contribution, there can be challenges when stepping into this role.

Here are a few things to consider before volunteering for a nonprofit:

  • The volunteer “program” may not be as organized as it seems. Smaller or younger nonprofits are often the organizations that depend the most on volunteer labor. And while, the time volunteers give is crucial to the cause, the organization may lack the necessary capacity to design a comprehensive volunteer program. In these situations, flexibility and patience are two important traits of a prospective volunteer. 

  • Change doesn’t come easily. Without being in the mecca of the decision making in an organization, volunteers may have a hard time understanding why things are the way they are. This can be especially challenging for more seasoned volunteers who can easily see how a change in policy would benefit the program. It’s important for volunteers to know that most policy decisions are made at the Board level, and the volunteer coordinator may not have the ability to institute new ideas as easily. 

  • Money is important. While volunteers don’t expect payment for their time, it’s important to understand how funding is connected to the volunteer program. It may not be extremely apparent, but the amount of money a nonprofit has to put into volunteer recruitment and retention may affect the outcomes of the volunteer program. Nonprofits still need volunteers whether the funding is there to support the program or not.

  • Communication is key. Communicating expectations is essential for a successful volunteer tenure. The volunteer needs to be clear on their time and ability levels while also expressing the vision they have for their volunteer commitment. The organization is responsible for adequately orientating a new volunteer to the tasks and culture of the organization, while ensuring they are properly trained for the work they are about to do. When both parties adequately communicate with one another, the chance for a successful match increases greatly. 

Volunteers aren’t simply an extra set of hands for an organization, but a true extension of that organization’s team.

They have a strong heart for the cause and are willing to do whatever needs to be done to help.

Without volunteer labor, many nonprofits wouldn’t be able to serve their populations or fulfill their mission. Volunteering is a true labor of love and with important considerations, the match between volunteer and nonprofit will be a lasting one. 

Need to strengthen your volunteer program? Contact us today to see how our services can help.


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