Volunteers: Instruments of Your Mission

By Alexandra Ricketts

As a risk advisor to nonprofit organizations, I often hear leaders refer to volunteers as the heart of a charitable mission. This hopeful outlook often inspires passionate volunteer service. But the risk of discord exists when nonprofit leaders are naïve about the cost of volunteer service. Volunteer service may be unpaid, but that doesn’t mean a volunteer works for free.

This month I began going through a volunteer recruitment process with an organization whose mission is to bring live and recorded music to the bedsides of patients in healthcare facilities. I’m happily going through the process of becoming a volunteer and I’m excited to share what I’m learning in this journey.

Risk Tips to Help Volunteers Stay on Pitch

Tip #1: Be appreciative and prepared. This week, I had my first call with a recruiter from the organization where I hope to volunteer. I was wowed by how organized the recruiter was: she knew exactly what she wanted to convey, and made me feel comfortable asking questions. Although this was my first time speaking with a representative from the organization, I was impressed!

Tip #2: Be honest and clear about volunteer roles. Well-written position descriptions are essential to volunteer success. Describe the specific duties and expectations of volunteers in a document that you post online or email to prospective volunteers. An effective volunteer position description is a self-screening tool: it helps a prospective volunteer evaluate whether they are suited for the role. Self-screening not only saves an organization time and resources, but it allows for a potential volunteer to identify and match their skill set to the right nonprofit. At the beginning of my recruitment process, I noted that the position description stressed the importance of being comfortable knocking on the doors of hospital rooms and asking patients if they would enjoy a live musical performance. After reading about this role, I asked myself: “Am I suited to this role?”

Tip #3: Be supportive. Although volunteers don’t receive a paycheck, they require your investment to succeed. Don’t skimp on volunteer support and training. In addition, be generous with your respect for the important work that volunteers perform. Before recruiting new volunteers, ask: Do we have the time to train and support new team members? Are we clear about what volunteers will do, who will provide supervision, and the minimum skills we need? Have we identified specific characteristics that will render an applicant ineligible to serve? Are we truly committed to the success of our volunteers? If the answer to any of these questions is “no” or “maybe…” consider postponing volunteer recruitment. You’re not ready. Remember, passionate volunteer service has a price tag.

Tip #4: Don’t take dangerous shortcuts; design tailor-made policies. Volunteers want and need to know the important rules in your nonprofit. But to show them your utmost respect, turn off auto-pilot, shelve worn, impractical or outdated policies, and take the time to create relevant policies for the here and now of volunteer service. The Center has a resource that can help you do that: Version 2.0 of My Risk Management Policies. It’s an affordable cloud application that makes creating tailored policies easy and satisfying.

For information about the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, visit www.https://nonprofitrisk.org/ or call 703.777.3504.