3 ways to make the most of your volunteers

A nonprofit is the sum of its parts - spreading the message, processing donations and others - and one of the most valuable components is the volunteer. Volunteerism has decreased 42.2 percent in the United States, the Pensacola News Journal reported. At the same time the estimated hourly value of volunteer work rose 41 cents, according to The NonProfit Times. And while $22.55 is the highest recorded value for volunteer time since 1980, the increase is actually the third lowest in a decade.

As the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports a 10-year low in volunteering, here's how to make the most of the workers you have:

Invest in their time
As volunteers become more valuable and less plentiful, it's not out of the question for nonprofits to route their volunteer training through a human resources department. With the same preparation and orientation as staff, volunteers can contribute more completely and at higher levels. Go so far as to train volunteers for specific teams related to their areas of interest and you'll develop a group of passionate, efficient and effective workers.

Make use of specialized skills
Orienting volunteers in your organization according to their interests is great, but even better is to draw from their own unique talents. When calculating the value of volunteer work, Independent Sector bases the figure on the labor for the nonprofit, not the volunteer's background. This means if one of your volunteers is a doctor but he or she is painting fences, the value is the same as that of a barista painting fences. Naturally, this will vary from charity to charity, but try to put your volunteers to work in areas of their expertise and take advantage of their specializations to get the highest value for their work.

Know when to pay
Points of Light, a leading volunteer organization, offers an Economic Impact of Volunteers calculator. Use it to determine how effective your volunteer program is - particularly with respect to your workers' time and expertise - and consider which roles might best be filled by paid staff. You'll find far more value setting up your dentist offering free check-ups and hiring an administrative assistant to file papers than vice versa. Similarly, invest in donation management software and open up your computer engineers and finance majors to tackle new goals to improve your nonprofit's efficacy.

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