5 ways to increase nonprofit volunteering

It can be argued that donations are the lifeblood of a charitable organization, but without the unrelenting efforts of volunteers, a nonprofit would be hard-pressed to accomplish its goals. According to a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, domestic volunteering dropped for the third consecutive year in 2013

Volunteering is now at a 10 year low, the report added. The BLS was not able to explain the decline, although some may suggest a correlation between the unemployment rate and the low volunteer rate [this seems slightly counterintuitive to me. wouldn't some people volunteer if they couldn't find a job?]

There is a silver lining for nonprofits, though, as the annual average fell just over 1 percent from the year prior. Listed below are five suggestions to help attract and retain quality volunteers for your organization:

1. Know why people volunteer: It may seem pretty easy to understand, but there may be some individuals who are looking to add to their experience of helping others. Other motives might include a desire to meet new people and to expand their social and professional network, while some may have free time and are looking to develop a new skill set, Blackbaud suggests. That's not to say that volunteers aren't commonly motivated by the act of giving - most are. But knowing why your volunteers are giving their spare time is important in keeping them happy, and by showing you value them, they are more likely to return in the future.

2. Have someone take charge: No matter how strong or how small your volunteer coalition is, it needs organization at some point. Appointing a manager or coordinator to direct where personnel should go helps ease the uncertainty of volunteering. Blackbaud even recommends taking things a step further and providing orientation and training for your workers. If you supply organizational infrastructure to your volunteers, you are more likely to receive their best work in return.

3. Set the expectations up front: If you decide to train your volunteers, make sure they know what you expect in return. A streamlined way of doing this may be creating a volunteer manual which outlines expectations and any other office etiquette you might have in place. If the resources aren't there to provide specific training or a manual, have them come a half hour early and explain what you're looking to get out of the event and how they can help.

4. Develop a plan of action for everyone: Getting to know first-time volunteers takes a little time, so for anybody new on your team, ask what they are adept at or what they'd like to do. Offer to place them in a spot they feel comfortable at first, and if they continue to give back, then move them around and see how else they can assist your cause. It's important to not ever waste your volunteer's time, Blackbaud points out. They are offering up their free time to help your charity, and providing individual tasks and goals shows you appreciate their time. Alternatively, give them room to make goals for themselves once they've worked with your charity a few times.

5. Make it fun: This should be the easiest recommendation of all. You're working for an organization you are passionate about, and you've been fortunate enough to demonstrate that enthusiasm with people who share the same feeling. Motivating volunteers can't be that difficult seeing as they are offering their spare time to help your cause. But don't use that as a crutch, Blackbaud says. Engage with them, accommodate their needs, and thank them once they're finished. If you instill confidence in them that they helped make a difference, there's a chance you'll be seeing them again.

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