All nonprofits need a strong volunteer corps to function.  For small nonprofits and start ups, volunteers might comprise the bulk of your professional staff. Who are these volunteers, where do you find them, what do they do, and what do you do with them?

The chief volunteers at a nonprofit are your board of directors. While they can be compensated for expenses and receive per diems, board members of nonprofits may not receive dividends or salary for their activities as directors. It’s one of the defining differentiations of for-profit and nfp. For small nfps, the board often provides professional advice on things like marketing, finances, or program, and may even cover staff functions. Board members may also be on the staff, but I think this sets up huge conflicts of interest and is not a good idea.

Program volunteers: these are your docents and ushers and the like, but may also include theatrical and music performers, teachers in educational efforts and other professionally-trained personnel who might, in other circumstances, be paid for what they do for you free.

Committees: volunteers can serve on both standing and ad hoc board committees. Generally these are people who are there because of a particular expertise or personal interest in the activity of that committee.

Events: events volunteers are your workhorses. They are gathering auction items, making signs, setting up and tearing down the event itself, and probably recruiting the people who will come. They are probably already donors as well, which characteristic will apply less to all other volunteers except your board.

So, where do you find these people? Start with your donors and ask them to help. If you’ve been talking to your donors like you should, you’ll have a sense of who the likely volunteers are. Make sure that your website, social media and newsletters talk about the volunteer program. Talk to your board about bringing on friends and professional associates, especially for events. If you work for a children’s organization, clearly you have a built in volunteer corps in the parents. In other words, you find them in the same places and through the same tactics that you find all donors.

And volunteers ARE donors; in fact they are really valuable donors, because they are giving something they value much more than money– they are giving their time and their expertise.  You should be thanking them constantly–when they sign on, when you see them, after their project is done, and in any and every solicitation that you send (and you will also send them solicitations).

More to come on volunteers all week!

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