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How to Address Top 3 Volunteer Management Challenges

Volunteers for non-profits
Written by shailesh@civihr.org - 11 Sep 2018 Category: Non-profit Challenges

As non-profits, we all will agree that volunteer management is both a necessity and a challenge. It is difficult to recruit volunteers, assign them tasks appropriate to their skills and interests, and even track their attendance and work.

As non-profits, we all will agree that volunteer management is both a necessity and a challenge. It is difficult to recruit volunteers, assign them tasks appropriate to their skills and interests, and even track their attendance and work. And all this under the perpetual constraints of time and resources! Well, we all agree on this, but when did we take a step back to see what challenges our volunteers face when working with us? Read on to know why this is important and how to address this often-ignored aspect of volunteer management.

 

Understanding Volunteers’ Outlook

To get to the bottom of the challenges, let's look at things from the perspective of volunteers. Volunteers, as the name suggests, are well-meaning individuals ready to contribute in a non-profit’s efforts. There is often no financial compensation or any other reward. Their time commitment is not comparable to that of full-time employees, and is spread over a wider time frame. This means that volunteers develop a particular outlook towards their work with you, and herein lie the challenges!

 

Challenge 1: Feeling of Being Undervalued

Volunteers are loosely connected to your work and need to be told what to do. Owing to their low time commitment, you find it challenging to offer them large, more involved pieces of work. This suggests that motivating factors such as decision making and leadership are well out of scope. Under such situations, volunteers often end up doing menial jobs.

To prevent this, an effective solution is to communicate in greater details. When new volunteers show interest, reach out to them immediately. Long response times may discourage them. When volunteers show up, explain the work to them in an organised fashion. A pre-written list of instructions or a small introduction video will both save your efforts, as well as get volunteers up to speed faster. Further, ask them for suggestions and genuinely deliberate over them to see if you can improve your practices in any way. And of course, thank and appreciate them for their work!

All of these will make the volunteers more involved, despite limited time engagement.

 

Challenge 2: Volunteer Burnout

An aspect closely related to the above challenge is volunteer burnout. It is often seen that the same volunteers that were enthusiastic in the beginning, end up looking dull over time. Opportunities for growth and variety in tasks are seldom possible. Couple that with regular sessions and you have exhausted volunteers, if they still choose to volunteer.

To keep things moving, it is important to space out volunteer sessions. Can you change a weekly engagement to a bi-weekly engagement, by getting more volunteers? Can you rotate volunteers across different work items, to keep them interested? Can you be flexible with your time requirements and schedule? Can you allow volunteers to work from home, for suitable tasks? Can you arrange for a volunteer-exchange program with your/another non-profit in a different city?

Really, you may not need more than one or two of such ideas to keep your volunteers interested and to prevent burnout.

 

Challenge 3: Lack of Team Working Spirit

Volunteers necessarily work on smaller tasks and thus lack much interaction with regular staff. This creates a feeling of isolation. While this is an intrinsic constraint with any volunteer arrangement, there are ways in which volunteers can be made part of a team - if not with the full-timers, but among themselves.

The idea is to generate a sense of community, and there is no one way of doing it. Create a monthly ideas-exchange forum in which volunteers can share their experience and inspire one another. The interaction doesn't have to be formal - they can share simple, everyday stories and create a human connection. If you have little time, you can at least get started by creating a volunteer-only group on Facebook or WhatsApp, and set the ball rolling.

Just let them share their ideas, attitudes, ethos... do it however you like! Connections among volunteers will go a long way in creating a strong community.

 

Now that you have some idea of volunteers’ concerns, re-look into your current programmes and see how you can improve them. And of course, keep reading our blog to see more pragmatic ideas on improving your non-profits operations. Until next time, happy volunteer-managing!

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This post is the next in the series of addressing specific challenges non-profits face and builds on top of the earlier post on recruiting the right talent.

 

About CiviHR

CiviHR is a project to create affordable HR software for non-profit organisations. By developing open source technology the benefits can be shared with non-profits everywhere.

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CiviHR is a project to create affordable HR software for non-profit organisations. By developing open source technology the benefits can be shared with non-profits everywhere. 

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