Volunteers have your back; do you have theirs?
by Cheri Kishimoto, CVM

loyal to your cause
volunteers give skills and time
show them gratitude

So much uncertainty surrounds our financial future in the sector, bringing to light our need for more sustainable alternative resources. While nothing can replace money for certain expenses, we need to consider how we can forward our mission by utilizing other resources, perhaps some human resources. Not only do volunteers help you accomplish tasks, they also advocate for your mission, involve their friends and family, and some will even donate to your agency. Volunteers can add huge value to your organization if you know how to cultivate and connect with these caring individuals and groups.

How do we do that? Remember that volunteers are HUMAN. Yes, they want to help. Yes, they are unpaid. Yes, they probably won't ask you for anything. However, volunteers are not free. They still need guidance and purpose and appreciation. Being human means they probably have many different motivations for volunteering with your organization. Being human also means they have feelings and needs, which, if acknowledged, can keep them loyal to your organization for years (much longer than that foundation grant you have to keep applying to renew each year!). They are well worth the investment of time, manpower, and a budget line item.

What's troubling is that in 2015, Hawaii ranked 51st in the nation in volunteer retention with only 52.8% (nationalservice.gov). That means about half of our volunteer force serves one year and then not the next. What does the retention rate at your agency look like? Have you ever looked at that data and had a real and honest conversation about what your numbers mean regarding how successful your volunteer program is? Do you have job descriptions for all volunteer roles so that your volunteer has a clear vision of what they are doing? Do you think it's appropriate to have volunteers do only the tasks that no one on staff wants to do? What's your budget for your volunteer program? How are you inspiring loyalty and sustainability in your volunteer force?

Being a volunteer coordinator/manager/leader is a tough job. There are pressures to meet all the needs of the organization and recruiting, training, assigning work to, assessing, scheduling, and appreciating volunteers takes time. On top of that, coordinating with other staff members who utilize volunteers, tracking your volunteer data, and corresponding with each volunteer is often in addition to the responsibilities and position that you were originally hired for. Does your back hurt like you've been doing some heavy lifting?

Volunteers have your back. Do you have theirs?

Cheri Kishimoto is the Executive Director of Hands In Helping Out, an Oahu-based nonprofit founded in 2009 to inspire sustainable volunteerism through human connection. In 2017, it launched the HIHO Fellows program to address the lack of educational opportunities within the Volunteer Leadership community in Hawaii. Click here to learn more.

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