Tapping into a powerful resource: volunteer skills and experience

December 9, 2014

Tapping into a powerful resource: volunteer skills and experience

Nonprofit groups large and small are familiar with the concept of volunteering. On a basic level, there are plenty of times when a nonprofit's need for manpower outstrips their available staff. Volunteers are often needed to host fundraisers and help support community initiatives. While these assignments are by no means negative or a waste of volunteer resources, nonprofits that limit themselves to these simple applications of time, effort and labor are likely missing out on the skills and experience that many volunteers have to offer.

Nonprofit advice website Front Range Source suggests that charitable organizations consider the many different ways that volunteers can help, not just the most obvious ones. Nonprofit veteran Leslie Allen pointed out that organizations as large as Greenpeace used volunteers for areas that are often considered to be in the realm of paid staff members. For example, the environmental group had a volunteer who managed accounts payable processing for close to 20 years, an impressive display of volunteer effort and dedication at a high level of operations.

How can nonprofits encourage higher-level volunteer efforts?
Expanding volunteer impact on an organization doesn't have to involve a major commitment of staff resources or time. The majority of nonprofits already collect information about their volunteers, including the tasks they are comfortable and uncomfortable performing. Extending their surveys to include queries about volunteer skills and experience represents a minor procedural change, but can make it much easier to identify higher-level areas where volunteers excel. Even asking about the current and past occupations of volunteers can help find the most talented people to fill the specific needs of a charitable group.

Nonprofits can also send out proactive, needs-based messages to their donor and volunteer communities. An organization in need of someone to help out with bookkeeping or provide IT support could solicit its volunteers before they turn to paid job postings. Such an approach is low risk and can help find the volunteers with the best skill sets to help out. By specifically asking for help in a certain area, nonprofits can appeal directly to volunteers who have the right experiences and abilities, making them feel both appreciated and needed.

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