volunteerswelcome 2015-Mar06
Here is an important connection between major giving and volunteerism.
A study of philanthropy by the Bank of America states that donors give twice as much, annually, when they volunteer with the organization. The amount is not insignificant; on average, the giving rises from $39,000 per year to $78,000. And the most common volunteer activity is serving on the board, although 40% provided professional services.
This is really good news, and it could be good for most non-profits if they treated their volunteers like they would treat a valued employee. But many don’t. Unfortunately, a wonderful relationship with a good donor can be soured by poor volunteer management.
I heard a story recently about a very gifted, wealthy and influential major donor who decided to accept an invitation to become a member of the organization’s board. This gentleman had founded his own company, had thousands of employees and was extremely successful. He joined the board, looking forward to making an important contribution. But his advice and attempts to participate and contribute were ignored. He said, “Richard, it’s as if I was an idiot. I felt shamed and violated. It was one of the worst experiences I have ever had.” And so he went away. So did his giving.
Or there’s the story of the very successful woman who talked to a volunteer coordinator about giving her time; she was treated so ineptly by the employee that she not only started volunteering with another organization but shifted her giving there as well.
Why do we do treat volunteers this way? Because we don’t value the gift of labor, and we don’t know what to do with them when they show up. It is an amazing thing to watch. A person gives time, and the gift is trampled on and misused.
By the way, the managers and leaders who abuse volunteers, and maintain systems that violate them, are the same managers and leaders who abuse and mistreat their employees. They should not be in the organization. And if they’re in your organization, get out.
The gift of labor is a precious thing. That gift should be valued and stewarded for two very important reasons. First and most importantly, it is the right thing to do. Second, the giving of time is closely tied to the giving of money. Since this is true, you would think that self-oriented volunteer abusers would at least value the money and clean up their act. But they don’t – it’s so amazing.
So what can you do? Well, you need to reorient your thinking and your practice related to volunteers, so you create a happy place for them. And what makes for a happy volunteer? Well, my friends and colleagues at The Salvation Army in New Jersey are taking important steps in two areas to make that very thing happen.
First, they have created a system for board recruitment and assignment that identifies the work that needs to be done in the organization; then they match those categories of work to a professional who has experience and skills in that category. Think about the order of things here. First, what needs to be done is identified. Then they will go out and find the labor. And this is real work inside the organization matched to a real person outside the organization who will give the gift of labor to get the work done. Genius!
This makes for a happy volunteer. Why? Because there is real work to do, not a conjured-up place to put a volunteer “because we have to do something with them!” The volunteer is also happy her skills and experience have been well-matched with the work.
Secondly, they have revamped their volunteer recruitment system that finds and manages volunteers to serve in many areas of the organization. They have reorganized that function to include the following four important steps:

  1. Identify the work that needs to be done. Do you notice a theme here? They actually want to figure out what really needs to be done. Nice. They call this step: “ID volunteer opportunities.”
  2. Recruit and train the volunteer. This is that matching thing again – matching the job to the skills and experience of the volunteer. AND there is training. Goodness, how novel! They’re actually going to train a volunteer! I love this point because it proves that these folks are serious about stewarding this gift of labor.
  3. Place the volunteer. The volunteer actually accomplishes something meaningful, completing the match of work and labor.
  4. And then, I really like this one, steward the volunteer. Wow. Do you mean you are actually going to care about how the volunteer is doing? You’re really going to check in and solve problems and redirect? Wow. Is this good??! Steward the volunteer. Here is a genuine expression of valuing. Here is a recognition that a great gift has been received and is appreciated. This is pretty cool stuff.

You can see how both of these volunteer philosophies and systems shepherd the volunteer into a happy place, because skills and passions are matched to the work, and all of this is girded with kindness and valuing. Makes me happy just writing about it!
You can also see that a major donor who contributes his time and is treated this way can’t help but fall deeply in love with the organization and want to do more. That is how it works. And this is what you can do in your organization. Set about making a happy place for your volunteers using these ideas. It will be the best thing for them, your organization and you.