52 Tips in 52 Weeks: How are you Engaging Volunteers in These Times?

December 4, 2020

I was intrigued by an article in the New York Times last week entitled, “Demand on Nonprofit Groups Rose in the Pandemic, Even as Volunteering Fell.” The article cited a recent study by Fidelity Charitable which found that two-thirds of all volunteers had either decreased or stopped their volunteering because of the pandemic. This is breathtaking to say the least. Certainly, it is not surprising that in the midst of these trying times volunteers are not able to engage in the same way that they were prior to the pandemic. Health, safety, stay-at-home orders, not to mention changes in the ways that nonprofits are able to provide their services are certainly some of the contributing factors.

I am grateful that my organization has not stopped our volunteer engagement and opportunities. We continue to engage volunteers as committee members, Council members, trainers, facilitators, and peer reviewers (these volunteers review applications in the Standards for Excellence accreditation program). We have also worked with a small group of talented college and graduate student interns over the course of 2020.

The Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector has always highlighted the important contributions of volunteers who work generously and tirelessly to help nonprofits meet their important community missions.

This week, our organization celebrated the return of a former graduate school intern to our organization as a new member of our staff (I love this as I myself am a former intern who is now a staff member at the nonprofit where I served as an intern!).  It is so important to keep up with former interns and volunteers of all types. Your volunteers, past and present, are often your organization’s greatest cheerleaders.  Some of these individuals may progress into bigger and more involved volunteer positions.  Others may become your key supporters and donors and still others may join your board of directors.  A few may even apply to become a member of your staff team.  Of course, it is important to communicate to volunteers that their roles as volunteers do not include a promise of future involvement or future employment.  This should be explicit and clear in an organization’s volunteer policies.  So, even if you cannot engage volunteers in all of the same ways in 2020 as you did in prior years, it’s important to continue to engage volunteers and to have a comprehensive volunteer program in place—working to support your nonprofits’ important mission.

The  on Volunteer Policies addresses the benefits of volunteer policies, how to develop volunteer policies, preparing for incorporating volunteers into an organization’s efforts, initial assessment and screening of volunteers, volunteer training, ongoing volunteer supervision and evaluation, motivating and encouraging volunteers and recognizing and providing opportunities for volunteer advancement. The package includes: a Model Volunteer Program Policies and Procedures, a Position Description for Volunteer Coordinator, Sample Volunteer Policies, a Sample Volunteer Agreement, and a Sample Agreement for Unpaid interns.

The full series of Standards for Excellence educational packets include sample policies, tools and model procedures to help nonprofits achieve best practices in their governance and management. They can be accessed by contacting a licensed Standards for Excellence replication partner, one of the over 150 Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultants, or by becoming a member of the Standards for Excellence Institute.

Amy Coates Madsen is the Director of Programs for Maryland Nonprofits and the Director of the Standards for Excellence Institute, a national initiative to promote the highest standards of ethics and accountability in nonprofit governance, management, and operations, and to facilitate adherence to standards by all organizations. The Standards for Excellence Institute is a program of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations where Amy has served for more than twenty-four years. Amy is responsible for coordinating all aspects of the association’s comprehensive ethics and accountability program and efforts to replicate the program nationally. She serves as a frequent trainer and writer in the areas of board conduct, program evaluation, program replication, fundraising ethics, and nonprofit management. She has taught courses on nonprofit ethics and accountability at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies Certificate Program on Nonprofit Management.