Volunteers: An Essential Element of Many Non-profits (Toni Jackson)

As many non-profits have come to learn, those who donate their time (Volunteers) can be as valuable as those who donate their money (Donors).  Successfully managing volunteers is the focus of this Toni Jackson series post.

For some Non-profit organizations, people who work willingly as unpaid supporters are the lifeblood of the non-profit.  If this describes your organization, it’s particularly important to be smart in the way you motivate and lead your volunteers.  Jackson offers several strategies and thoughts on doing so.

Toni Jackson

The High Point Theatre

One of the most exciting aspects of a prior position, as the Theatre House Manager for the High Point Theatre, was the volunteer involvement. I was responsible (3 years) for recruiting, training, and scheduling volunteers for all performances at the Theatre – located in Central NC near Greensboro NC. I had the privilege of writing the  Volunteer Manual for the Theater.  I developed a sense of the spirit of the Volunteer. What truth did this position help me discover? Folks are going to give their time, their money, and their space to things that they are passionate about.

Once one embraces this, a person with the role of Volunteer Leader will, I feel, succeed in managing and motivating volunteers if they are able to do two things: Understand the distinct interests of their volunteers; set expectations for the roles they fill. The High Point Theatre, I will note, had a very small paid staff. Therefore, the hard work of volunteers was the lifeblood of the theater. These eager individuals served as ushers and staffed the concession stands and ticket booths. Having an effective, volunteer corp was a win – win. The volunteers enjoyed serving in unpaid roles that allowed them to support the theater. Moreover, the theater benefited from reduced costs of vital positions that didn’t have to be done by paid theater employees.

I knew that my ability to successfully recruit, retain, and incentivize these men and woman benefited them, the theater’s employees, and theater goers alike. When I held this positions at the theater, the main thing I tried to do was to find out about each new volunteer I trained.  In conversing with them I was able to understand their interests and passions.  By tapping into their distinct interests, I came to realize that I was much more likely to get that person to comeback, to keep giving their time to support the theater in a given position.  If you have a keen awareness of all the Volunteers you lead, but fail to set clear expectations for them, you’ll have problems.

When you interact with each volunteer in a given position, you need to let them know what the job description is. This is at the root of setting clear expectations. While they aren’t being paid a salary, you need to let them know that they’re doing an important job. Take the money part out of it and clearly communicate that, while unpaid, the position they hold allows the organization to run smoothly. 

The Arc of High Point

I currently serve on the Board of Directors for The Arc of High Point (NC), a non-profit organization that advocates for and provides resources and programs to families who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Their largest fundraiser is an annual Wingfest Event which is held on the grounds of the local Triad Farmers Market.  This annual event is held in one of the busiest summer months, June.   As the Volunteer Coordinator for this Summer event, I’ve been successful in securing volunteers who are willing to donate their time; without their input, frankly, the success of the fundraisers would be impossible.  Who were these people who were eager, unpaid workers for the Wingfest? They include, not only the entire roster of the non-profit’s Board and it’s staff, but also other non-profit organizations and employees of local businesses and government offices.  I feel these volunteers willingly give of their time, and return year after year, because: They know what the expectations are; they can gain the respect and appreciation from the Arc of High Point.

Again, people are going to give their time, their money, and their space to organizations and causes that they are genuinely passionate about. 

If you understand this fact, tap the acknowledged passions of volunteers, and state clearly position expectations, you’ll be an effective Volunteer Leader.  You’ll be able to, I feel, harvest a Win-Win that helps your Non-profit achieve it’s Mission – and allow your Volunteers to eagerly donate their time.

Whether they are a nice-to-have or must-have part of your Non-profit organization, most Non-profits can’t afford to ignore the merits of being effective in recruiting, training, and engaging Volunteers.  Toni Jackson, in this final Series post, offers insightful thoughts to help you successfully avoid being an ineffectual volunteer leader.  If you have a volunteer experience of your own you’d like to share, feel free to do so in the comments section below.  

Toni Jackson in this Series has offered advice, strategies, and insights into a wide range of non-profit issues.  If you missed any of the posts, click on the Toni Jackson tag at the bottom of this post.

  • We thank Jackson, Sofia Crisp, Robin Morgan, Leah Lamb, and Delquanda Turner for the great wisdom they’ve shared with you and others on this blog since July 2015.  Each Series has explored the distinct journeys they’ve taken; each Series strives to help you Learn and Grow too.
  • Our next Your Outcomes Well Series begins soon.  You will not want to miss a single post!


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