In my blog this month, I address staff resistance to using volunteers in nonprofits. If you’re not a nonprofit ‘native’, you probably think the idea that any charity rejects free help is ridiculous! Trust me, it happens every day in nonprofits of all sizes and cause areas. I see this resistance to using volunteers as a cancer in the body of charity. Don’t get me wrong, there are some real drawbacks to using volunteers. The main one is what I call the “flake factor,” which curiously aligns with the 80/20 rule. As in, if you recruit 10 volunteers, two will show up for duty. Any serious nonprofit leader knows that recruiting, orienting, training and supervising volunteers takes strategy and work. And yet, despite the issues, working with volunteers is 1000% worth it.
Despite the issues, working with volunteers is 1000% worth it.
Volunteer resistance is a topic I know something about because I started my nonprofit adventure as a volunteer coordinator. I like to say I volunteered my way into volunteer coordination. I enjoyed volunteering so much, I started facilitating the experience for others. That path led me to where I am today, proud of having raised millions of dollars for charity.
When I was a young college graduate many years ago, I needed to figure out what I wanted to do for a career. I’ve always had a heart for service, so I began working with a variety of organizations and populations in need. I served as a caregiver to older adults with Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease and was trained by compassionate LBGT caregivers. I mentored young women in maximum security facilities who had committed serious felonies. As a Substance Abuse Technician, I admitted men and women into treatment who hit rock bottom from addiction to drugs and alcohol. Each time I served a new population, I would walk in with a pre-conceived notion about the people I would be serving. And every single time I walked out, I was transformed, further convinced we are all part of the same race, the human one. Volunteer service opened my eyes but most of all, it opened my heart.
And every single time I walked out, I was transformed, further convinced we are all part of the same race, the human one.
One of the most pervasive myths about people in need is that they are not like us. In truth, we are all so much more than the labels society assigns us. I first learned this as a volunteer, and you can see how the way my preconceptions were challenged led me to focusing on serving the nonprofit world. If you are a nonprofit leader committed to changing lives and bettering the world through your mission, know that providing opportunities for the community to serve is life changing for everyone involved.