volunteer loading truck

The pandemic dealt a crushing blow to volunteerism across the United States. Over 90 percent of volunteering in the country shut down. Fortunately, it has improved during the past two years as nonprofits. But we still have a long way to go.  

In honor of Volunteer Appreciation Month in April, this article explains why volunteers are good for your organization, and how to incorporate them in your strategic planning process. 

The value of volunteers 

As of April 2021, the estimated national value of each volunteer hour is $28.54. This calculation is based on the average earnings of private sector workers from the Current Employment Statistics of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The assumption is that these earnings represent the cost to the organization of hiring paid workers to provide these services.  

The National Council of Nonprofits tracks the many unique and positive characteristics of volunteerism, including: 

  • Volunteering can have a positive effect on one’s mental health and well-being. 
  • Volunteers are among the most loyal donors to a nonprofit. 
  • Volunteers cannot be compensated for their services nor claim a tax deduction for their time. 

Additionally, VolunteerHub boasts an impressive list of statistics about volunteers: 

  • Many people volunteer to socialize with others in the community. 
  • The vast majority of individuals report their volunteerism contributes to an increased sense of purpose in life. 
  • Those who volunteer regularly have a better chance of gaining employment.  

Volunteers care a great deal about how the time they are investing is helping to advance an organization’s mission.  

The strategy for volunteers 

Nonprofits that focus on increasing capacity build volunteers into their business. Volunteerism is a mission-critical piece of these high-performing organizations’ planning. Here are some tips for incorporating volunteers into your company’s planning and processes.  

  1. Set goals for volunteerism. What purpose does volunteerism serve your organization? What are the main business priorities it will help to accomplish, and how? What outcomes will volunteerism help drive? The most effective volunteer programs lay the groundwork by seeking answers to these questions.
  2. Create a target volunteer profile. Would you hire anyone who applied for a position at your organization? Probably not. Treat your volunteer staff similarly. Define the type of volunteers your organization needs and the skills they should bring. Include internal stakeholders in the definition of these traits and ask employees to help interview and select volunteers. The goal here is not to be overly picky but intentionally thoughtful. 
  3. Enact a volunteer management plan. After you’ve selected volunteers, your work is not finished. Continue to treat volunteers as you would employees. Onboarding programs, training opportunities, and performance conversations are all effective approaches for managing volunteers. These individuals will appreciate the time you spend on their personal growth.  
  4. Show volunteer appreciation. Although volunteers give selflessly, they welcome appreciation in return. Gift cards, consumable treats, and photos capturing the time they’ve invested in your organization will bring even more meaning to their work. Additionally, recognition activities and appreciation events allow your entire organization to show their appreciation.  
  5. Invest in a volunteer-to-employee pipeline. Some volunteers may be in the market for gainful employment. Identify high-potential people whom you would like to hire as compensated employees and invest in their leadership development or career training. These opportunities will keep them engaged in their volunteer work while preparing them for possible future employment. 
  6. Include volunteers in the visioning and strategic planning processes. If you’re interviewing board members, employees, and clients as part of your strategic planning or visioning process, don’t forget to include volunteers as well. Volunteers are valuable stakeholders in your organization.

Merging volunteerism with strategy 

Strategic planning helps you build a stronger, more sustainable organization aligned with your values and mission. A well-designed strategic plan is a blueprint for action and answers the questions: “Who are we? Where are we going? How do we get there?”  

Incorporating volunteerism in your planning is important for sustainability and long-term effectiveness. We propose a step-by-step plan that includes five critical success factors, and we partner with many non-profit businesses to help drive their planning efforts.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is an organization’s process of defining its strategy and making decisions on how to allocate its resources (staff, budget, programs, and services) to pursue that strategy.

The strategic planning process in nonprofit organizations consists of three main components: plan development, plan execution, and plan review. This guide will take you through the process, which includes crafting organization mission, vision, and values statements; conducting a strengths, problems, opportunities, and threats (SPOT) analysis; developing a balanced scorecard with measures to track strategic goals; writing and communicating the strategic plan; and executing and reviewing the plan.

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