Blog -> I-don’t-have-time-for-that: Volunteer Training

I-don’t-have-time-for-that: Volunteer Training

Recently we helped a very small nonprofit structure a volunteer program. Up until now he was working solo with three board members trying to achieve their mission. They have been effective and successful in achieving their mission – but with success comes growth and growth needs more hands.

“I don’t have time to train anyone, I just need people to just do it.”

Don’t we all? The training: explaining your vision, your mission and your online/offline presence, nuts and bolts of paperwork is its own part-time job, isn’t it? So, how do you ask for help – structured, long-term (or even short-term) help when you barely have time to tie your shoes? We recently brought this question to a group of nonprofit consultants and their answers were extremely insightful:

“First, clearly define all the jobs as I would if I needed to go through a hiring process. Then figure out how all these jobs can be integrated in the organization meaning if it’s a short term job, then it can be part of a task force but if it’s more long term, it can be a committee.”

“Appeal focus on the skills and passion that people can contribute by engaging, not on the needs of the organization. A “we invite you to become involved . . .” message is so much more effective that a “we need you” message.”

“I think of them as constituents and friends to be related to and that does take resources.”

The answer that really hit home was from Creating the Future:

“We have learned to be clear about what’s reality and what are our fears / concerns. Just as it is with hiring any staff (and volunteers are staff, so we’ve stopped creating those lines) there are positions that, when put in place, almost instantly take the burden off a founder, freeing him/her to do more value-added work. To figure out which those are, we do a lot of matrixing in our work.

We will be listing every single job that either isn’t getting done (or done well) because we’re stretched too thin, or that we wish would get done and just don’t have time to do. Then we’ll be adding columns for every little nagging criteria for deciding which to find help with. 

So one column might be “how easily could someone hit the ground running?” (1 is “not at all” and 3 is “immediately”). Perhaps another column for “will it take ongoing care and feeding from us as the founders, or will they be able to take this ball and run with it (i.e. am I creating a new project just because I have someone to do it, but I will need to write a blog post every week to support that? or etc.) Again 1 = bad, 3= good. For every protest “I don’t have time to train someone; I can’t find anyone who understands what we’re doing; etc.” we make that an objective criteria and rank it 1-3. Adding up those totals helps us get EVERYTHING out on the table – our wish list of tasks, and all the criteria that are in the backs of our minds, arguing why one item is more do-able than another. Then we can organize ourselves asking people what they love to do, so that we can match the work we have to get done.

Check out their volunteer sign-up form, it’s genius and

First lesson in figuring out a volunteer program: be organized and honest about your fears, strengths, time and ability to delegate. THEN open it up to reach out to your community. A little upfront work and brainstorming will help you streamline your needs (and you know, we’re all about streamlining here at NMS) for later on!

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