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Planning For Next Year’s Volunteers

Lori Halley 20 November 2013 0 comments

It’s hard to believe that the holiday season is around the corner. This means we’re winding down 2013 and planning for the New Year.  And if your plans include looking for a new wave of volunteers, here are some ideas to help with planning for volunteer retention, transitions, and recruitment in the coming year.

Converting joiners to stayers 

Maybe a new year doesn’t really require an entirely new group of volunteers. Before you launch into your recruitment planning, look at your existing team. Have you reached out to your valuable volunteers to find out how the year has gone and if they might stay on? 

Tobi Johnson used the phrase “convert joiners to stayers” when talking about the importance of effective onboarding. Johnson noted that: “much of the job of initiating volunteers is helping newcomers negotiate conflicting emotions – surprise, fear, ambiguity, etc. – as they work to settle into their volunteer jobs comfortably.”

But effective orientation is only a critical first step in volunteer management. It’s also important to ensure someone is continually checking in with volunteers throughout the year. This goes for all of your volunteer team – from those sitting on your board, to occasional event volunteers. If you haven't been doing a regular check-in, take time now to see how your existing team is doing and how they've enjoyed the year. Perhaps there are folks who are happy to continue in their existing roles and others who may be ready to take on a more challenging position.  There may be volunteers who want to participate but are looking for additional support or supervision.

Before you instigate the changing of the volunteer guard for your committees or events, check to see who’s willing to stay on and what might be involved in making the coming year an even better experience for existing volunteers.

Recruiting new volunteers

Volunteers are the lifeblood of many associations, non-profits, charities and clubs. And while you appreciate and cherish your existing volunteers, there is always a need for new blood or additional volunteers. This is especially true for small organizations that rely on volunteers to manage their day-to-day operations. That’s why it’s important to have a process in place to effectively manage recruitment. With a thoughtful, structured process, you are more likely to ensure that the experience is mutually beneficial for the volunteer and your organization.

If you invest some time pre-planning (gathering a volunteer recruitment team, defining your needs and creating position descriptions) and develop an effective outreach and screening process, you’ll be more likely to find the right fit. As we suggest in our Getting Started With Volunteer Recruitment Guide,once you’ve established a process and the right volunteers are in place, if you keep the lines of communication open and recognize volunteers’ efforts, you’ll promote a positive volunteer experience all around – making the volunteer recruitment and retention process more streamlined and less stressful in future.

Recruiting New Board Members

The participants of our Small Membership Insight Survey identified the need for advice and tips on board recruitment, including understanding how to “recruit and attract board members that bring substance to the table.” We understand that the task of recruiting board members can be a little daunting since your board members are in crucial leadership roles. These folks are responsible for ensuring you meet your mission as well as the financial well-being of your organization. For small volunteer-led organizations, the board may be also be managing day-to-day operations as well.

Of course it’s not about “filling seats”. An established recruitment process (that includes a well-defined role and expectations as well as an application and screening process) ensures that all candidates are qualified and evaluated using consistent criteria and process. For help in getting started with board recruitment, check out: Developing a Board Recruitment Process – which offers an overview of a basic 4-step board recruitment process.

Exploring new forms of volunteering

Perhaps this year you might want to expand your volunteer repertoire. For example, has your organization taken advantage of any of the following?

Virtual Volunteering:

Does your organization have tasks that could be done virtually? The term “virtual volunteering” applies to volunteer efforts that are accomplished online as opposed to in-person. This can be a convenient way for volunteers to complete tasks off-site via computer, such as; translating documents, editing or writing material, website design and maintenance, creating a video, moderating online forums, etc. 


This is a form of virtual volunteering where an individual volunteer or groups of volunteers perform tasks online (on computers or Smartphones) in small increments of time (e.g., a few minutes or a few hours).

Many individuals want to help out, but can only make small time commitments. If your organization has tasks that could be managed remotely, or if you can take an existing role and divide the responsibilities into smaller, more management pieces, you might find the perfect micro-volunteering fit.

Of course, virtual and micro-volunteering require slightly different recruitment and management processes and techniques since these individuals will most often work remotely.

Pro-bono professionals:

For those of you unfamiliar with pro bono – it is work undertaken voluntarily by professionals that is performed either without payment or at a reduced fee. In a post on Network for Good, Liz Ragland notes that organizations should consider using pro bono volunteers for help with building your online presence. Ragland suggests you consider pro bono for “projects that are compartmentalized—photography, newsletter design, and copyediting—are great places to start.” The post includes a chart designed to help organizations who are new to pro bono volunteering by suggesting tasks and rating these in terms of their ease of management and accessibility to pro bono services.

Managing volunteer transitions

Even with the best laid plans, each year will involve some volunteer transitions, and there can be many challenges involved with passing the volunteer torch. As we noted in a post a while back,  these challenges can range from broad strokes, such as orientation of new Board members, to more detailed issues around information and resources transfer. We’ve heard stories of incoming volunteers trying to find misplaced logos or artwork to promote a yearly event and realizing they’d have to be recreated from scratch because no one knows where they were stored. So it’s important to work with outgoing volunteers to ensure a smooth transition for incoming committee chairs or event organizers.

This also involves having processes in place to maintain your organization’s “institutional memory” such as your membership or supporter database, event registrants and other data that needs to be safely stored and backed-up to ensure continuity. Depending on your needs and the size of your organization, this might mean creating Google docs or using Membership Management Software, both of which can be accessible to multiple individuals in the Cloud.

Your volunteers are an essential resource, so we hope these thoughts and ideas help with your volunteer planning for 2014.

For more ideas and insight, here are some additional blog posts and resources:

Image source:  Paper cut of hands volunteering courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 20 November 2013 at 8:30 AM
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