Tips for working with volunteers: Keeping your best help at their best

Non-profits have the great pleasure and joyful challenge of working with volunteers. At New Moon, we love volunteers. They make or break vibrant downtowns. They sacrifice time and talent to make things happen in their communities that for-profit businesses simply can’t do.

One of the challenges with volunteers, however, is because not-for-

profit organizations are so thankful to have these givers of time and talent, they can sometimes spend less “human resource” time with these workers than they may do with paid employees. While volunteers should be continually praised and rewarded for their great work, they do require oversight and management.

Here are 3 tips for making sure your volunteers are using their generosity and enthusiasm to make your organization better:

  • Take Note of How Their Help is Offered There are two kinds of volunteers. One walks into your office and says, “I want to help! How can I help?” and the other walks in and says, “I have this great idea and it’s the only thing I’m doing to do for your organization. I really don’t care what else you have planned.”

The former is an excellent volunteer. The latter is possibly running for office or dealing with some control issues. New ideas are great, but someone who truly wants to help your organization comes in with a heart to help with your initiatives – not start new ones. If his or her ideas don’t directly benefit your organization and could potentially create more work for you, it’s best to direct that enthusiasm in to existing projects. A good test is to ask your new volunteer to help with an existing project before any new ideas are implemented.

  • Carefully Screen Interns  Interns can be the best thing that ever happened to your business or organization. Often they are incredibly talented professionals who are fulfilling their graduation requirements and will lend you some amazing skills and resources while they are with you. And sometimes they are hoping to file their nails and not flunk out. Ask your intern candidates three questions when they walk in your door: 1) What do you want to do after you graduate? 2) Which of our current projects are you excited to work on? and 3) Why did you apply for this internship? If you don’t like the answer to any one of them, they might create more work than they save you. Find your rock star intern, because her or she is out there.
  • Do Background Checks When Called for  Not every volunteer requires abackground check. But the volunteer working at the coloring station for kids? Definitely. Though time and funds may prevent you from screening every volunteer, be sure those interacting with kids, cash and members of the public one-on-one pass a basic background check. Your local law enforcement can help you with that.

Everyone volunteers for a reason. For most, it’s because they have a heart for your organization’s mission. To be sure you’re getting resources added to and not taken away from your workday, check to see if your volunteer’s reasons for helping out match your organization’s mission. When those are aligned, nothing can come between you and success.

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