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

Jayne Cravens, www.coyotecommunications.com

Mission statements for your volunteer engagement
(Saying WHY your organization or department involves volunteers)

Here's a cringe-worthy statement about why an organization involves volunteers, taken from an organization in Portland, Oregon:
Volunteers play a huge role in everything we do. In 2010, 870 volunteers contributed 10,824 hours of service, the equivalent of 5.5 additional full-time employees!
Yes, that's right: this nonprofit is proud to say that volunteer engagement allowed this organization to keep 5.5 people from being employed!

In addition to carefully crafting the way you talk about the value of volunteers, your organization should also consider creating a mission statement for your organization's volunteer engagement, to guide employees in how they think about volunteers, to guide current volunteers in thinking about their role and value at the organization, and to show potential volunteers the kind of culture they can expect at your organization regarding volunteers. The mission statement should be on at least one page of your organization's web site, it should be included in your organization's employee and volunteer policies and procedures, and it should be included in all new employee and new volunteer orientations.

The mission statement should answer this question: why does this organization involve volunteers? Here's some possible answers to that question, in the form of mission statements for volunteer engagement (feel free to use these or to adapt these for your organization or program, as you like):

All tasks at our organization related to advising new entrepreneurs/mentoring young people/delivering meals/repairing bicycles are reserved for volunteers. We feel these roles, which are fundamental to the meeting of our organization's mission, are best done by volunteers - unpaid staff donating their time and talent - rather than paid employees.

Such-and-such organization reserves certain tasks and roles specifically for volunteers, per our commitment to create opportunities for the community to participate in, offer feedback and endorse our work.

As a part of our commitment to both transparency and to creating opportunities for community investment in our organization, such-and-such organization welcomes volunteers in a variety of roles, including activities that directly support our paid employees, leadership positions and client services.

Just as some jobs are best done by paid employees, some tasks and roles at our organization are best done by volunteers. We therefore reserve certain positions for volunteers, including...

Our organization involves volunteers so that we can tap into skills, experiences and talents beyond what our excellent professional staff already bring to our organization and its work.

Every employee at our organization looks for ways to involve volunteers in his or her work. This is part of our commitment to involving the community in all aspects of our work.

Such-and-such organization is committed to helping to cultivate new professionals in the field of name-of-field-redacted. Therefore, we reserve certain tasks and roles for volunteer interns, to provide career-development experiences to emerging professionals.

As a part of our mission to help youth/people-with-disabilities/immigrants/displaced workers find employment, our organization reserves some tasks and roles at our organization for youth volunteers/volunteers-with-disabilities/volunteers-experiencing-unemployment/etc. Through these volunteer experiences, youth/people-with-disabilities/etc. gain skills and experiences that can help them in their career exploration and job searches.

Such-and-such organization reserves such-and-such tasks for volunteers, because we believe volunteers are the best people for these roles...
(Such-and-such tasks could be:)

Be careful of any statement like, "We couldn't exist without volunteers!" unless it includes narrative that shows volunteers are not involved in order to not have to pay staff.

Having a mission statement for your organization's volunteer engagement can protect you from over-zealous staff members, consultants and corporate funders who want to push for volunteers to replace paid staff and save money, or to increase volunteer engagement in areas of the nonprofits work that would be inappropriate. It also could help protect you against lawsuits from volunteers who feel they were merely unpaid workers. The US Department of Labor (DOL) and US Federal Courts want to see that the work of volunteers is distinctly different from the duties of the organization’s employees - and their guidelines on how they make the determination regarding who is a volunteer and who should be paid are good guidelines for other countries as well. To determine whether an individual is truly volunteering, the DOL and US Federal Courts look to:
You can read more from the DOL here.

Also see Is Your Volunteer Really an Employee? The Answer Might Surprise You [Part 1]

and Is Your Volunteer Really an Employee? The Answer Might Surprise You [Part 2]

Learn more about how to talk about the value of volunteers.

I blog about this topic frequently, to show with various examples why talking about volunteers only in terms of money saved is bad for an individual organization that does it and bad for anyone that cares about volunteerism in general. Here are some of those blogs:

Also see:

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