Supervising Volunteers in a Nonprofit Organization

by Danielle Bloom

2 min read

You’re usually pleased to have people give their time and expertise at your nonprofit for free. In fact, many nonprofits are staffed almost entirely by volunteers and are keen to harness their enthusiasm. However, unlike your paid employees, volunteers can often dictate their working hours and walk away without serious repercussions. Maximizing this free labour and keeping your volunteer workforce motivated requires careful management.

Clear Expectations

Volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds and can include inexperienced teenagers, busy professionals taking time out from a busy workload, and retired people. When you recruit volunteers, both you and they need to be clear of the following:

  • The job role and duties, and how it contributes to helping the organization achieve its aims.
  • The level of time commitment you expect.
  • Location of work base.
  • Access to desk space, computer, tools and other essentials.
  • Dress and other behavior codes.
  • Supervisor’s name and contact details.
  • Rewards and benefits such as free parking, free beverages or meals and discounted goods.

Much of this detail can be clarified in writing within a job or role description. Formalizing this information helps to avoid confusion and provides a reference point for training, monitoring, and supervision. Where possible, assign a specific individual to take charge of managing the volunteer program. Alternatively, you could build volunteer management responsibilities into your human resources department.

Introduction

Before or shortly after each volunteer starts work, provide a formal introdution to raise awareness of the whole organization and its goals and values. Also introduce key personnel and make sure all volunteers have ID badges and key codes to access certain facilities so they feel like they’re part of the organization. They also need to receive health and safety training with a full fire drill and information about what to do in case of an emergency. Members of the public are often unable to differentiate between paid and unpaid staff, so your volunteers need to be fully informed to represent your organization in a professional manner.

Training and Support

If you have formal job descriptions in place, you have probably tried to match the volunteers’ levels of experience with the tasks you expect them to perform. However, as practices and procedures change frequently, the allocated supervisor needs to monitor the volunteers’ performances to ensure they’re up to speed with latest technology or legislation. They should also arrange on-the-job training or attendance at staff development events whenever possible to help improve volunteers’ skills and maintain their motivation.

Supervising and Monitoring

The volunteers’ supervisor should also aim to give regular, constructive feedback to the volunteers. Letting them know when they’re getting it right, offering praise, giving thanks, and featuring their achievements in a staff newsletter all contribute to volunteers feeling motivated and committed. If a volunteer is underperforming, letting down colleagues by poor time-keeping, or behaving inappropriately or dishonestly, the supervisor needs to take appropriate action. If coaching and support fail to bring about an improvement, the supervisor might need to terminate the relationship. Having a clear protocol for volunteer feedback, discipline, and termination makes a difficult situation easier to handle. Successful supervision and monitoring of your volunteers – and showing your appreciation for their efforts in donating their time and expertise for free – helps maintain motivation and commitment. In return, this unpaid workforce can play a crucial part in helping your nonprofit organization achieve its goals.

References & Resources

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