Leveraging Volunteer Leaders to Build Capacity at Volunteer Projects

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There are many factors that impact the number of volunteers an organization hosts for a service project, including budget, supplies and space. However, if the barrier to hosting a larger project is staffing, it’s time to think differently about how you manage projects. Leveraging volunteer leaders is a great way to increase the size and scale of your projects while also building your organization’s capacity. As you explore adding volunteer leaders to your projects, consider the following:

Create a Position Description

It’s important to know what you’re looking for in a volunteer leader and what role you want them to play. What experience do they need to have? Do they need to be comfortable with public speaking? Should they have a specific skill or certification? Be clear on the profile of the volunteer leaders, as well as their roles and responsibilities, and then capture this in a position description.

Recruitment

Sometimes you need to look no further than your existing network of volunteers to find great volunteer leaders. Most of us have that group of rock star volunteers who bring a lot of energy to projects, demonstrate great leadership and are dependable. Let these volunteers know that you recognize their contributions to your organization by sharing the opportunity with them.

Other ways to recruit volunteer leaders include:

  • Post the position on your website
  • Promote the position on your organization’s social media channels
  • Share the position with local professional groups, civic engagement organizations and the community service clubs of local universities
  • Ask those rock star volunteers to share the position with those they think would be a good fit

Training and Support

Volunteer leaders are still volunteers. It is important to maintain a personal connection with your volunteer leaders. After orientation and training, you will still want to coach and mentor them to help individual leaders grow their thinking and capacity to lead.

Provide clear guidelines, due dates, reminders and clarification of requirements. More importantly, know your volunteer leaders’ strengths, as well as the areas that need more development, so that you can better help them develop their skills. If you foster their development as you do for staff, your organization is more likely to retain a strong and growing body of committed, qualified volunteer leaders.

Decide if you want to support volunteer leaders formally or informally. Formal support can include regularly scheduled meetings and task-specific training. Informal support occurs as it is needed rather than at scheduled times and can include calls or e-mails to check in. Provide opportunities for volunteer leaders to share best practices and learn from each other, such as casual gatherings at a coffee shop or a virtual meetup. Through this continued support, you are preparing volunteer leaders to take greater responsibility, and in doing so, engage even more volunteers.

Lauren Reynolds

Points of Light

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