A volunteer program mobilizes volunteer resources to fulfill the mission, vision and goals of an organization or group in order to meet community needs. Volunteer programs exist within nonprofit organizations, businesses and companies, government agencies, communities of faith, grassroots groups, communities, and neighborhoods. (Adapted from the Points of Light Foundation & Volunteer Center National Network)
Below are the effective practices and helpful links to further information for volunteer program start-up.
Conduct an Organizational Assessment
What is your organizational mission? What are you trying to accomplish in your community? How do volunteers fit with your organizational mission, strategies, and goals? How could volunteers best serve your organizational needs to allow you to serve more people a make a greater difference in your community? How can volunteers help you meet your organizational goals? A worksheet to help you get started can be found by clicking here.
Create a Strategic Plan for Your Volunteer Initiative
Volunteers can serve in direct service, administrative support, fundraising, and leadership. To get those volunteers started, each volunteer program needs a vision and a road map for effective action. Your organization might have a mission statement for the work of the organization as a whole. Do you have a mission statement for your volunteer program or your community action initiative? Start there!
Next, develop a strategic action plan for your volunteer program. What are your goals? When do you want to achieve them? Who will be accountable for your program success? Strategic action planning is a community effort. The Drucker Foundation offers samples - click here. For assistance in setting measurable outcomes, try the United Way.
Create Meaningful Volunteer Opportunities
What was the best volunteer experience you have had in your lifetime? Most likely, the organization was ready for you, you had plenty of work, and you felt like you made a difference in the life of a client or in the life of your community. The organization had the foundation laid, including: policies and procedures, appropriate intake and recruitment materials, position descriptions, and staff that are trained. Before you ever recruit your first volunteer, these items in the pre-recruitment checklist must be in place:
Develop a Pre-Recruitment Strategy
Below is a checklist of things to think about and do before you even begin the volunteer recruitment process:
Secure Top Management and/or Board Member Investment
Maybe s/he will write a welcome letter to all new volunteers, maybe s/he will speak at your annual volunteer recognition event. At Habitat for Humanity, Jimmy Carter supports Habitat for Humanity by sponsoring "The Jimmy Carter Work Project" each year to gather momentum for the organization's work.
Ensure Staff Investment and Involvement
Effective operation of a volunteer program requires that there is a supportive working relationship between staff and volunteers. If either group does not understand the needs of the other, or if either group is distrustful of the other, the volunteer program cannot function effectively. Is staff prepared to assist in the interviewing, screening, orienting, training and supervising volunteers? Is everyone fully trained and knowledgeable about his or her role in volunteer placements? Does all staff know how to handle and direct calls from potential volunteers and are they ready to respond to the inquiries of potential volunteers? Share the wealth! Volunteers can inspire other staff. And staff can help strengthen your volunteer program through their involvement. Find out how to sell your program to the staff so that they are asking you if they can help out! Click here.
Build Community Investment and Collaboration
Groups that excel in building collaborative relationships frequently comment that mastering collaboration has opened doors to new projects, new funding and new clients and volunteers. Collaborations provide opportunities to rethink concepts of how organizations within a community relate to each other and can respond to the growing needs of their members and the community, often in the face of scarce resources.
Develop organizational marketing materials (brochures, web-page, fact sheet, etc)
Potential community partners and volunteers will want easy access to information about your organization. When they do research to learn about you organizational mission, vision, and strategies, make it easy for them to find.
Develop Volunteer Materials (brochures, position descriptions, handbooks, etc.)
Don't recreate the wheel. Find other similar organizations and share materials. For samples, click here.
Create diverse volunteer placement options
Volunteers can even serve virtually! Did you know you could enlist the help of others through the Internet? Did you know that some school systems have service requirements for students to graduate? Some colleges and universities are looking to place work study students in community organizations. Different kinds of volunteers require different kinds of placement hours, situations, and flexibility with schedules. Whether you need an updated web site or help with your newsletter (both which could be done either at home or at an off-site location), volunteers are waiting to help! Your local Volunteer Center can assist you in developing volunteer opportunities to help mobilize people and resources to deliver creative solutions to community problems (http://www.1-800-volunteer.org/) Also, try Tech Soup or the Virtual Volunteering Project for resources on how to set-up your virtual volunteering project.
Ensure Policies, Procedures and Record Keeping Systems are in Place
What are your considerations as a manager of volunteers? What kinds of records will you need to keep? What kinds of safety and liability policies do you need to have in place? If you are using students as volunteers, remember you will need to certify their service for compliance with school requirements. Do you have the right forms on file? The Nonprofit Risk Management Center is a resource for you. Also see the "Sample Forms Collection" from the National Service Resource Center by clicking here.
Identify a Volunteer Recruiter(s) who can Speak Knowledgeably and Enthusiastically
Find a volunteer or staff person who can inspire those that they talk to about your volunteer program. What should be included in that message? For tips, try these links:
Develop a Recruitment Strategy with Recruitment Goals
What is the target you are striving towards? To make your recruitment drive the most efficient and effective, develop a plan. For tips on developing a recruitment strategy try the Texas Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service or contact your local Volunteer Center (http://www.1-800-volunteer.org/) to convene diverse community members for volunteer involvement.
Create Recruitment Materials
Brochure, Flyer, Public Service Announcement? So many strategies…so little time! Marketing is an essential aspect of recruitment! Resources include the Senior Corps Tech Center.
Make sure Systems Are in Place for Evaluating Volunteer Performance and Outcome(s)
How will you know when you are successful? It is important to development measurement tools that will trace your progress and many successes. For more resources try: Maryland Governor's Office on Service and Volunteerism.