Volunteers are an important part of the nonprofit sector. From volunteer service on boards and committees to volunteers who help with mission work, all nonprofits have a role for volunteers and, thus, a need to have volunteer plans, policies and procedures.

The National Council of Nonprofits notes, “Volunteers are a tremendous resource for charitable nonprofits. Absent volunteers, many charitable nonprofits would not be able to conduct programs, raise funds, or serve clients. The vast majority of board members who serve on charitable nonprofits’ boards are volunteers.”

There are some nonprofits with no paid staff; volunteers do all the work.

Your nonprofit should never pay or provide in-kind compensation for your volunteers.

Depending upon the state(s) your organization works in, volunteers may or may not be covered by workers’ compensation insurance. If your nonprofit is in a state without this, you may want to consider volunteer insurance coverage.

The value of volunteer time is not reported to the IRS on your 990; you may acknowledge this value on Part III, Statement of Program Accomplishments.

Volunteers can be your most loyal donors.

As you think about your volunteer program, include consideration of skill-based volunteers to augment staff and fill critical roles in your nonprofit. Skills-based volunteering provides an opportunity for professionals to connect with a cause they care about and donate their skills to support that cause—a benefit for the nonprofit and the volunteer.

You may have a well-developed volunteer program, you may be at the beginning of developing a volunteer program, or you may be somewhere in between! Regardless of the stage of your volunteer program, recruitment is on the agenda.

Consider these things as you think about volunteer recruitment.

What are the volunteer tasks? Do you have a need for “warm bodies” at an event or other activity that requires a large number of volunteers for a limited time period? Do you have regular jobs that a volunteer could do? Answering phones, helping with mailings, working a front or information desk are some of these types of tasks. Are your volunteer needs at a regular day and time, sporadic in nature? What communication mechanisms are in place to communication with potential volunteers? Do your volunteer tasks have any physical requirements that may limit certain volunteer demographics?

Fail to plan. Plan to fail. This old adage can apply to nonprofit volunteer programs, as it can to many other facets of our lives!

A well-planned volunteer program is the first step to a lasting and effective volunteer program. You and your nonprofit must be positioned to recruit volunteers and to accept those who simply walk in the door and say, “Here I am. Put me to work.”

If you’ve thought about the specific volunteer needs of your organization, including a need for skill-based volunteers, and if you’ve thought about recruitment and the very specific tasks and required skills, it is now time to codify your thoughts. Write them down and they become your volunteer plan.

Build on examining the work of your organization and identifying those tasks and activities that a volunteer could perform. Develop a volunteer  “job” description from this information and make it specific. What is the job? How any hours each week will it take to do the job? Are there special skills required, or is there training necessary, to do the task?

Most importantly, make sure your plans include explicit benefits for the volunteer!

Check out these resources for more help with volunteers.

National Council on Nonprofits
Skill-Based Volunteers

Volunteer Recruitment