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Planning is the key to success for all organizational projects, and volunteer program development is no exception.  Planning for volunteers includes a variety of decisions. Get together an internal team - or recruit some volunteers to help you - and develop a written plan.  Your plan should address an assessment of your organization's readiness for volunteers, your goals and objectives for engaging volunteers, a budget and resources, staff preparation, training and support. Taking the time to develop a plan will save you time during implementation.

Assess Your Organization's Readiness

Does your organizational have the commitment and vision to support creative engagement of volunteers throughout the organization? Do you have the strategies, systems, policies and resources in place to set volunteers up for success? Are staff trained and supported in their efforts to work with volunteers? Utilize this Volunteer Program Assessment, developed by Betty Stallings, to gauge the readiness of your organization to engage volunteers in the delivery of your mission.

Volunteer Program Goals and Budget

Volunteerism is a direct strategy for implementing your organization’s mission. As such, there should be goals pertaining to the measurable and attainable impact that volunteers will have within your organization. Read Susan J. Ellis’ post regarding The Domino Effect of Setting Goals for Volunteer Involvement and VolunteerHub's outline to set goals for your volunteer program.

In addition to setting goals, consider the resources necessary to set volunteers up for success. There are low cost ways to facilitate volunteer recruitment, support and appreciation, but it is not always free of charge. Check out Tobi Johnson’s post on How to Create your Volunteer Program Budget and make sure you are prepared to cover your costs.

Volunteer Management Staffing

Finding the right person to manage volunteers can really make your volunteer program blossom. Volunteer managers recruit, supervise, train, and celebrate your volunteers. A manager who has experience in the field, excellent communication skills, and is highly organized can provide the leadership needed for a high-impact volunteer program.

Too often volunteer managers are balancing a wide variety of tasks outside of managing volunteers, and have few resources or support. In smaller organizations the role of ‘volunteer manager’ may not exist; instead an individual who may have many other responsibilities is asked to manage the organization’s volunteers. In larger organizations the volunteer manager may be overwhelmed having to coordinate with many different programs and respond to requests from many different people in the organization. In both cases the overall volunteer program will suffer if the volunteer manager does not have sufficient authority and resources to do their job well.

Volunteer Manager Position Descriptions

To get the most out of your volunteer program you need to designate a volunteer management position. Start with a detailed job description. Here is an example of a thorough position description for a volunteer manager from a museum: volunteer manager position description. Notice the large range of responsibilities.

Use this generic template for a volunteer coordinator position description, to create a comprehensive job posting. This template can be used for various types of nonprofit organizations.

Support, Training, and Networking

Give your volunteer manager or coordinator the support they need and consult with them frequently about the ways they can bring the right kinds of people and resources to your organization. Make sure staff at all levels of your organization know the value that volunteers bring to the organization.

It is important that your volunteer manager or coordinator has had formal volunteer management training.  Check with the Volunteer Center or United Way in your area for local resources. Additional options include:

  • VolunteerMatch’s Learning Center
  • Nonprofit Ready’s Volunteer Management training
  • 501 Commons hosts a variety of workshops, in partnership with United Way of King County and Serve Washington, that are designed to help you improve your volunteer management practices. Have a critical mass of agencies in your area and want to work with us to deliver a training? Let us know.

Like all professionals, volunteer managers will benefit from getting to know other volunteer managers. No amount of online research or reading can replace the value of talking with someone who is doing the same work and facing the same challenges.  Volunteer Administrators Network in Washington and Northwest Oregon Volunteer Administrators Association provides professional development and networking opportunities for volunteer management professionals. If you are in another state, search Energize Inc.’s directory of volunteer management professional associations and see if there is a similar group in your area.

Return to Topics in Volunteer Management Guide.