This guest post is from Hayley Samuelson, Storytelling Officer at Catchafire.

According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the nonprofit sector isn't managing volunteers effectively. "As a result, more than one-third of those who volunteer one year do not donate their time the next year - That adds up to an estimated $38 billion in lost labor."

Today's volunteers are searching for high impact, stimulating experiences with innovative nonprofits. Here's how to meet the modern volunteer's expectations and keep them coming back year after year:

1. Take advantage of the new volunteer workforce

While some may be picky, today's volunteers are ready to use their talents to make a real difference. To take full advantage of volunteer talent, think about how volunteers (both skilled and traditional) can fit into your strategic plans and solve challenges. SSIR suggests a few ways you can get started:

  • Prioritize support and training. Bolster your volunteer orientation by following the same agenda you would with a new paid hire. Ensure volunteers are up to speed with your organization's mission, progress towards your goals and the importance of their role. Provide them with all necessary tools, training and support they need to be successful. Be sure to set expectations clearly. Volunteers want to know how much time they will be committing, the desired outcome of the project, how you will communicate as well as the expected impact.
  • Assign appropriate tasks. Survey your existing volunteers to see if there are hidden expertises or areas of extra value you might not have thought of originally. Identify your volunteer's skills and match them with an appropriate project. Catchafire can help you connect with this type of talent while helping you create unique projects.
  • Connect them to cause. Inspire volunteers to return annually by facilitating an emotional connection with your cause. Invite volunteers to events where your community members are speaking. Introducing volunteers to the stories and people they are helping will encourage them to give more.

2. Provide an absolutely delightful experience

The first step to enchanting your volunteers is preparing a wonderful experience. It's important to understand their diverse motivations so that you can curate the right opportunity. A volunteer who is looking to develop their portfolio will be interested in different work from someone simply fulfilling their civic duty. Once understood, designate a volunteer manager to the project who can organize a plan and ensure its successful completion.

Don't waste your volunteer's time by undervaluing their ability to help. Set ambitious goals so they can stretch themselves. As Guy Kawasaki says, "it's much better to overuse volunteers than to underuse them, and better to reach for the impossible than to settle for the merely doable." Recognize when volunteers exceed expectations and empower them to contribute even further.

During initial engagement, communicate often. Open dialogue channels ensure that projects are on track and feedback is provided regularly. Like any of your employees it's important that volunteers feel like they are part of the team and are motivated to perform. Ensure they are aware of successes as well as when they can improve. Be respectful in this feedback and be sure to recognize their impact often.

3. Recognize their contribution

Anyone who helps bring your organization a step forward deserves proper recognition. It's good practice to acknowledge the individual's dedication to your cause and the actual impact they created, rather than simply recognizing the work they contributed.

Customize your recognition. A skilled volunteer who's worked closely to orient your organization's branding over the years may deserve public recognition while it may be more appropriate to gift a Starbucks certificate to a one time volunteer who helped organize your offices. Whatever their motivation or contribution, always send a handwritten note that explains the impact they've made.

4. Technology is your friend

Today, everything has gone digital, and volunteerism is no exception. Think about how you can utilize technology in your volunteer search and management.

  • Improve your search. Consider using matching sites. VolunteerMatch will help connect you with local volunteers to provide traditional volunteer support, and Catchafire is here to help you find skilled volunteers.
  • Communicate. Skype and Google Hangouts offer free options to video chat with virtual volunteers. Google docs is also a great way to edit shared documents in real time. Learn more about video-conferencing and cloud storage apps in our skills based volunteer management guide.
  • Share. Cloud storage tools such as Dropbox and Box make sharing and storing large files easy.
  • Get Social. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are fun ways to interact with and recognize volunteer contributions.
  • Provide Feedback. Use Survey Monkey to create quick survey templates. You'll get feedback on your volunteer programs immediately.

5. Think long term

Most volunteers know that great volunteer opportunities can be hard to come by, so when they stumble upon the perfect organization, they'll be loyal. Begin thinking of volunteer projects and management as an investment in talent.

Anytime a willing and worthy individual makes an impact on your organization, take note and brainstorm creative ways to keep them around. At Catchafire we've found that when volunteers have an exceptional time working with an organization they continue to support them on other projects, join the board, become an advocate, donate consistently and/or become a lifetime friend and advisor.


HAYLEY SAMUELSON is the Storytelling Officer at Catchafire, a New York City-based, for-purpose social mission business that makes skills-based connections between volunteers and nonprofit organizations. You can find them on Twitter at @Catchafire.

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