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5 Ways Your Small Charity Can Harness The Power Of Volunteers

5 Ways your small charity can harness the power of volunteers

With volunteers week approaching (1-7 June), we wanted to talk about these wonderful groups of people who willingly give one of the most precious commodities to the causes they love and care about…….time.

Often in fundraising, the focus can be on the money people give, overlooking the wonderful benefits that volunteering can bring, especially to a small charity, often with limited capacity and resource. The benefits of volunteering are huge- from raising awareness; adding power to your elbow; bringing expertise or knowledge to fundraising and let’s not forget that volunteers also tend to be fantastic fundraising prospects themselves, with many going on to leave a legacy gift. So how can you get volunteers on board and maximise their potential?

  1. Have a wishlist of volunteer roles (not just the boring jobs): Think about where volunteers could add power to your elbow. Are there some key tasks or roles that are just screaming out to be done? Write a list and review it- have you only included big chunky tasks that actually potentially need an employed staff member? Also make sure there are not just boring admin tasks for volunteers – such as counting change and filing (don’t get us wrong – there are equally folk that would be very happy doing that for you). Think about tasks in people’s own community (as opposed to just office based tasks) that they can do to help you reach a wider audience such as giving talks to groups such as rotary clubs/ churches, distributing awareness in their community (such as leaflets at their health centre). Don’t forget fundraising too- whether it is holding a bake sale or an annual event for their neighbours. Volunteers are often so engaged and loving what you do, that they can be your best ambassadors at a local level.
  2. Give people choice: What they do, when they do it and for how long. Volunteers will all be different – some will have lots of time to willingly give you, others will really want to help and support but may be constrained by family or work commitments or even poor health. Be understanding and make sure you have a list of tasks that anyone can do- whether it is simply leaving leaflets at their local health centre all the way through to organising a yearly event. Some people will be natural connectors and organisers and relish in the limelight and sharing their stories, others will prefer to support in the wings when they can. Every task though can provide precious support if you are a small team or amplify your voice to raise awareness. Don’t put off really engaged and passionate volunteers with only having big tasks or lengthy time commitments- you may end up loosing some real gems. Also always understand their why and what they want out of the experience. What is driving them to volunteer and what do they want to get out of it? This could be skills? Socialising? Helping others who have been living with the same health condition? Their why can help you match the right roles to them so that they really enjoy the experience and do an amazing job for you.
  3. Set your expectations: Be realistic about what your volunteers can do and can achieve. It’s tempting to try and fill key tasks and activities with volunteers – fundraising, communications, finance – we’ve seen volunteers attempted to be recruited to fulfil these key positions. Once every now and then we’ve seen a few lucky organisations that have found their unicorns and recruited some awesome, capable and dedicated individuals for such roles, but often they don’t always stick around- circumstances change and remember that these individuals are giving time for free. Relying on volunteers can also be unreliable in terms of when they work and others just simply haven’t had the skill set you needed to do these tasks well or these tasks were pushed onto them (see point 1). Finally, do consider the amount of time you will need to spend with your volunteer early on to support them, bring them up to speed and develop them. This understandably immediately puts some very busy small charity leaders off getting volunteers on board or delegating them interesting work. So think careful if you are firstly prepared to invest the time, because we truly do believe that volunteers are a huge asset and any time you invest, it will pay dividends.
  4. Stewardship: Just as you would with donors, you should think through how you will engage with and steward your volunteers. They may not be giving money (yet) but they are giving their time which is just as precious to them and to you. Support them, engage with them so they feel part of something through updates, invites to meetings and events, surveys and feedback and most importantly – thank them (again and again)!!
  5. Tell their stories: These awesome individuals have been moved and inspired to be part of your cause and give their time. Many will have wonderfully moving and inspiring stories behind their motivations which could inspire others to give their time and help you grow your army of volunteers. Celebrate their achievements and share the impact they have on making a difference!

Finally make sure that you know the laws around volunteering. NCVO has some good guidance as does the Fundraising Regulator when it comes to using your volunteers for fundraising.

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