Value of Volunteers – Still Beating the Drum

Whenever I had a meeting with Sharon Capeling-Alakija, then head of the United Nations Volunteers programme, I took notes, either during the meeting or after, because she always said something amazing that I wanted to remember later. One of the best things she said was when she talked about why UNV was committed to its online volunteering program. She never said it was because NGOs or UNVs have so much work to do and need people to undertake some of that work, for free. She said it was because “this is a way for people to be involved in the work of UNV, first hand. Before the OV service, the only way to do that was to be a UN Volunteer – and most people don’t get to do that.”

When we lost Ms. Capeling-Alakija, we lost a hugely important voice regarding the value of volunteers.

I cringe when someone says their organization involves volunteers because of the dollar value – like the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program, which has, at the top of its volunteer page, that a volunteer’s hour is valued at $20.85 by the Independent Sector. It’s the kind of statement that says to those paid staff members at your organization that are making less than $20.85 an hour, You are not as valuable as these volunteers. It says to funders, Why not cut our funding? Because we can replace staff with volunteers, and save $20.85 an hour! And it justifies the fear of union members and others who say We don’t want volunteers, because they are a threat to paid staff.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Why involve volunteers? What are the best reasons?

  • Volunteer involvement allows members of the community to come into your agency, as volunteers (and, therefore, with no financial stake in the agency), to see for themselves the work your organization does.
  • Community engagement is community ownership. Volunteer involvement demostrates that the community is invested in the organization and its goals.
  • Involving volunteers — representatives of the community — helps educate the community about what the organization does.
  • Certain positions may be best done by volunteers. Volunteers can do anything. They can be counselors, advisers, theater ushers, short-term consultants, board members, projects leaders, project assistants, event coordinators, event staff, first responders, coaches, program leaders, classroom assistants, and on-and-on. Always be able to say why your agency wants volunteers, specifically, in those positions rather than paid staff (and never say it’s to save money!).
  • Involving volunteers can be a reflection of your organization’s mission. If you are a nonprofit theater, for instance, you probably involve unpaid ushers. What have ushers experienced that is a reflection of your mission (which may be to present theater productions of that are of cultural significance for your community, or to ensure that community members of all ages and backgrounds are introduced to and educated about the place of theater in our society, etc.). If you involve volunteers as interns, how could you tie this involvement to the mission of your organization?
  • Involving volunteers can help your organization reach particular demographic groups — people of a particular age, in a particular neighborhood, of a particular economic level, etc., especially groups who might not be involved with your organization otherwise.
  • Involving volunteers can create partnerships with other organizations (nonprofits, government, business). Involving volunteers from a corporation might spur that corporation to give your agency a grant. Involving volunteers from a government office could lead to a program partnership.
  • Volunteer involvement can garner good PR (in media reports, government reports, blogs, etc.) regarding your community involvement. 
  • Involving volunteers creates support for your organization in other ways. How many volunteers are also financial donors? Have volunteers spoken at local government meetings or written letters to the editor of your local newspaper on your organization’s behalf? Are there any influential community members (elected officials?) who are former volunteers with your organization? What have volunteers done to educate friends and family about your organization and its mission?

Also see:

    Another anti-volunteer union

    The union of professional firefighters in the USA “does not condone” volunteer firefighters.

    Tags: volunteer, volunteers, volunteering, engagement, involvement, management, community, stakeholders, charities, charity, NGOs, non-governmental, organizations, nonprofit, civil, society, international, United, Nations, UNDP

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