Revised on June 2, 2017

A free resource for nonprofit organizations, NGOs, civil society organizations,
public sector organizations, and other mission-based agencies

Jayne Cravens,

Promoting volunteering engagement
internally at an organization
(to employees & other volunteers - including the board)
Building the value of the
volunteering specialist / manager of volunteers

Too often, the first position cut at a nonprofit organization or a community program facing financial difficulties is the manager of volunteers. Why? Because most people, even senior management at nonprofit organization, do NOT know what the manager of volunteers does, not really.

They think anyone can manage a volunteer engagement program, and that such management is easy. After all, a manager of volunteers just has a box and she reaches into it and pulls volunteers out of it as needed, right? The manager makes a few phone calls, tells volunteers where to be, hands out thank you mugs the job is easy peasy! And volunteers are free, right? They don't cost any money, because they are unpaid staff, right? And volunteers are always SO easy to work with!

In some ways, managers of volunteers have themselves to blame for these unfortunate and pervasive misunderstandings about what it takes to involve volunteers effectively and why an organization even involves volunteers at all. Most people in these positions, I'm sorry to say, do a poor job of making sure that every staff member at their organization knows the time and expertise they bring to the position, and the essential nature of their role in recruiting and supporting volunteers.

Managers of volunteers also often isolate themselves, seeing their work as somehow separate from the rest of the organization. They can also have a victim mentality, talking constantly about all the work they have to do, but not talking about just how important volunteer engagement is to an organization.

Contrast this with the fundraising manager at an organization, who often does a great job of letting everyone know how much money he or she has raised, making sure funding successes are celebrated internally, talking endlessly about the importance of networking and cultivation and, by default, making his or her role seem absolutely essential to the organization. The marketing manager does the same. Even the human resources manager is seen as an expert. Why shouldn't the manager of volunteers make sure volunteering successes have just as high a profile in an organization as well, cultivate an image of herself or himself as a specialist, as an expert, and make sure she or he is seen as also absolutely essential to the organization?

If you want your organization to understand and value its engagement of volunteers, and understand your role  as a manager of volunteers in the success of the program, you have to take charge of communicating this. And changing minds will be an ongoing process - one workshop, one report, isn't going to do it.

At minimum, the board of your organization, all paid staff and all volunteers should know:

To create this understand and knowledge, you, the manager of volunteers, are going to have to undertake an ongoing communications campaign. No one will do it for you - you have to be directing this, even if you get others to help you in this campaign.

Do not assume that staff already know what you do!

To build the value of the volunteering specialist / manager of volunteers, and to raise the profile of volunteering engagement internally and externally for your organization:

Volunteers can help with many of these activities. They can help you manage and monitor social media accounts, help you prepare web site materials, help you crunch data and create graphics using such, take photos at events, monitor the news and legislation and more. If you involve volunteers in this work, you are going to not only get your organization to understand and value its engagement of volunteers, and to understand your role in the success of the program, you are also going to greatly sharpen your skills at volunteer engagement - at talent management. You are going to increase your expertise in volunteer engagement. And that's what you have to do to be seen as an expert within your organization, and to see volunteer engagement valued appropriately at the local, regional and national level. No one is going to do this for you! You have to do it yourself! 

How strongly do I feel about this? Honestly, if you aren't going to do the above, then stop complaining that you, as manager of volunteers, aren't valued at the organization. If you aren't going to push for a change in how you are viewed, then you shouldn't complain. It won't be easy and you will meet resistance. But it's a fight worth undertaking.

And speaking of fighting, how about you join the Volunteer Manager Fight Club

Also see: