Hey everyone! I wanted to reach out to fellow Volunteer Managers, Coordinators, or other professionals who have supervision responsibilities for volunteers. I've been dealing with a persistent challenge at the nonprofit I work for, and would love to see if any of you guys are experiencing the same challenges.
I work for a local basic needs organization near our metro area. I was brought on board as the organization's first Volunteer Manager, and we've never had anyone who's primary responsibility is to recruit, train, and retain volunteers. We have been open throughout the pandemic, have gained a wonderful amount of financial support during this time, and have brought on so many amazing people during these past couple of years. Our volunteers have gone above and beyond to meet the needs we serve in our community. Getting people in our door and keeping them with us has not been too big of a challenge. However, I'm noticing a consistent problem, and I'm uncertain how to solve it.
Our volunteers burn through all the work we have available for them! Not always, but consistently enough to raise concern in my opinion. To give context, our primary programs include a food shelf and a thrift store that raises revenue for our services. Each program is contingent on in-kind donations, and volunteers are primarily responsible for sorting/processing donations throughout most of the day. Our volunteers stay so on top of everything that comes through our doors, that the workload/volunteer ratio has become unbalanced. To my understanding, this is a new situation that our organization has not experienced before. Our organization has also hired full-time staff amidst the pandemic that take care of critical tasks that volunteers initially took over prior to COVID-19, and they're here to stay. They've added much needed structure to the agency to better support those we serve, but it has also limited opportunities we can give to volunteers as a result.
When expressing my concerns to leadership, they don't see it as a problem. Our team is pretty content with the ebbs and flows of in-kind donations and the workload, and accept a lack thereof as a seasonal thing. In fact, they're happy with the fact that volunteers have been able to successfully sustain their departments. I'm not able to spend money to create new volunteer projects, and have to turn many volunteer groups away due to the fact that our individual, ongoing volunteers are rock stars and get all of the needed work done on a daily basis. Many groups or individuals looking to volunteer don't want to put money towards a project either. Of course, inflation has compounded these issues significantly.
I don't like vanity projects for volunteers, and might need to swallow my pride and give some a try if it's a way to engage more people. Volunteers are quick to sniff out mundane tasks (especially ones that we don't even really need done), and those are often the alternative ideas given to me by staff when asking them to bestow more opportunities for volunteers. I do not want to turn individuals who want to give us their time away!
I know many organizations would love to be in this situation with their volunteers right now, and I know we're blessed to have this problem. I am so grateful and want to trust that this is a good position for us to be in, but I feel like we're missing many opportunities to engage with volunteers.
I ultimately wanted to bring this challenge to the community's attention to see if it's something others have been experiencing, and to see how they've gone about handling it if so. I look forward to reading about your guys' experiences!
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