The Small Nonprofit Podcast: Managing volunteers in small organizations with Camara Chambers

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Volunteers! We can't live (or operate) without them.

Volunteers have a huge influence on our sector, with over two BILLION hours contributed in Canada in 2017. For small organizations in particular, volunteers are mission critical.

But that doesn't mean managing volunteers is easy. In fact, chances are you've experienced how hard it can be to manage them effectively.

In our conversation with Camara Chambers, ED of Volunteer Toronto, we cover how to think about your volunteer program, how to onboard your volunteers, and then how to manage and maintain them so that you are really leveraging their goodwill and supporting your organization.

Listen to the full episode now on our Small Nonprofit Podcast landing page!

Where can you use volunteers?

In order to optimize your use of volunteers, Camara recommends doing a mini audit of the opportunities where your organization can benefit from volunteer support. It's pretty common to have volunteers support outreach, program delivery, admin, fundraising and more! But there's nothing worse than having a willing volunteer and no work for them or trying to scramble to "make work" for volunteers.

Revisit your volunteer opportunities every year or so to make sure your volunteer program is optimized for your organization's needs. Don't just think about what "needs" to get done - also think about what skills are required (or need to be developed) to do the work. You want to make sure your volunteers' abilities match the work they will be doing.

And please, don't make work that doesn't benefit the organization. We see a lot of organizations try to bend over backward to accommodate someone who wants to do something that isn't helpful. You have enough on your plates - we're giving you permission to say "no" from time to time! If you can't benefit from a specific volunteer, maybe recommend another organization that is better aligned.

What do your volunteers want?

Volunteers have various motivations and the only way to discover what they are - is to ask! The best way to keep your volunteers happy is to make sure they are getting value from their time with you. Right at the beginning, ask them what they want and check in with them throughout their time volunteering with you. Camara recommends being upfront - a simple "what would you like to gain from this experience" goes a long way. This question also helps make sure there is good alignment right from the start.

Of course, there's a fundamental tension between trying to meet volunteer needs vs. the organization's needs. As with almost all things "small nonprofit" - start where you are! Don't worry about all the "what ifs" and focus on the opportunities that are most urgent and immediate and build from there.

On-boarding for success

A big factor to successful volunteer management is making sure they are on-boarded well. A combination of in-person and online training can go a long way in equipping your volunteers to be successful. They need to know about your organization, but also about their specific role. Think about some basic, general training, that you can provide more efficiently through video and then focus on the in-person and "on-the-job" training that is more customized for the role. Remember to provide more support in the early days as training is not just one session, but a process as people get more comfortable with their roles. A great opportunity is to leverage your existing volunteers in a position to train new ones.

The volunteer from "hell"

We've all had them. The volunteer that doesn't follow instructions or deals with situations inappropriately. Camara recommends both leaning on strong volunteer policies and trying to manage that person appropriately.

Your policies allow you to set expectations, identify what volunteers should know, what their rights and responsibilities are, and what happens when things aren't working as planned. You should outline how volunteers quit, if that's what they decide, and how they will be dismissed, if necessary.

Retention and recognition

You should be checking in on your volunteers on a regular basis - formally or informally. Make sure your volunteers feel the impact of their work - that is, after-all, why they are there in the first place! Help your volunteers know that their work is contributing to the organization's mission and impact in the community.

Volunteer appreciation is also critical to volunteer satisfaction. Don't just wait for Volunteer Week, make sure you give positive feedback and let volunteers know you recognize and appreciate their contributions to the organization. Even just stopping in to visit them on a shift to say "thanks" can go a long way! Volunteer Week is a great way to reinforce the thanks, but ongoing acknowledgment from staff and senior managers really does help volunteer satisfaction.

Listen to the full episode now on our Small Nonprofit Podcast landing page!

Subscribe & Review in iTunes

Are you subscribed to the podcast? If you’re not, I want to encourage you to do that today. We have even more great interviews coming and I don’t want you to miss an episode. Click here to subscribe in iTunes!

Now if you’re feeling extra inspired, I would be really grateful if you left us a review over on iTunes, too. Those reviews help other people find our podcast. Just open the podcast in iTunes, select “Ratings and Reviews” and “Write a Review” and let me know what your favorite part of the podcast is. Thank you!

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Resources from this Episode

Volunteer Toronto Website
CharityVillage Building a Great Volunteer Program eLearning course
Watch recorded CharityVillage webinars - including many sessions on volunteer management

Listen to more episodes of the Small Nonprofit Podcast

You are going to change the world. We can help. Running a small nonprofit is not for the faint of heart. With limited resources and fueled by a combination of caffeine and passion, small charity leaders are unsung heroes. The Small Nonprofit podcast, by CharityVillage and The Good Partnership, gives you down-to-earth, practical and actionable expert guidance on how to run a small nonprofit. From leadership and law to fundraising and finance, we’ve got you covered. Forget comparing your organization to the big shops, we’re creating a community of nonprofit leaders who are going to change the world, one small nonprofit at a time. Click here for more episodes!

Your Hosts

Cindy Wagman spent 15 years as an in-house fundraiser at organizations large and small before founding The Good Partnership – a boutique fundraising firm focused on small nonprofits. She has worked in social justice, health, arts, and education organizations. She has overseen and executed everything from annual campaigns to multi-million dollar gifts. She became a Certified Fundraising Executive in 2009 and received her MBA from Rotman at the University of Toronto in 2013.

With more than ten years of experience in development, staff and stakeholder management, strategic thinking, partnerships, board governance, and program development, Aine McGlynn is a diversely talented, self-starter committed to finding creative solutions in unexpected places. Aine holds a PhD from U of T and has a history of academic publishing, along with her decade of nonprofit sector experience. She is a practitioner-scholar focused on how to help nonprofits build their capacity to be successful at fundraising.

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