Did everyone see this New York Times piece about the current upsurge in volunteering? The anonymous Executive Director who wants the phone to stop ringing with all this proffered help wins a slot in the People Unclear on the Concept Hall of Fame. Yes, of course, you hope they’ll become donors–but they will, if you treat them right as volunteers. So anyone bemoaning the annoyance of a sudden uptick in people hoping to help out might as well be complaining about the mess made by $50 bills when they rain from the sky.
Yes, managing volunteers takes time; and determining how you’re going to use them takes thought. If it’s worth time and thought to figure out how to raise more money in a down economy, it’s worth time and thought to figure out how to make volunteers welcome and useful. Some of them will give you money immediately, but many more will give you money for the rest of their lives if you just treat them right, right now, when many of them are feeling devalued and disconnected and terrified.
The Nonprofiteer understands full well that your nonprofit isn’t run for the benefit of its volunteers, nor should it be; but it’s sheer we’ve-always-done-it-this-way laziness to refuse to think about how volunteers can give meaningful service. Try asking: what have we always wanted to do that we haven’t had the resources for? Is that something volunteers could do, or could do if properly supervised, or could do part of, or that staff could do if volunteers took over other aspects of their work? And by the way: doesn’t the Board have some committees that are less than fully staffed, where responsible volunteers could make a real difference?
The agencies that figure out how to say “Yes” to at least one of those questions won’t just survive these bad economic times–they’ll serve their clients better than they did before.