“So little time …”

Has this become a mantra at your organization?

If so, you are not alone; it’s a common theme at most nonprofits nationwide. One solution to this time shortage is, of course, to recruit additional volunteers. In fact, a 2004 study by the Urban Institute on volunteer management states that most nonprofit charities indicate a capacity and need for additional volunteers.

With each volunteer’s time worth an estimated $20 per hour, there is no question that they can be valuable assets to your organization.

A Catch-22

At the same time, volunteers must be recruited, managed, and mobilized, which, of course, requires time, money, and people power. The fact of the matter is, however, that a majority of an organization’s resources may already be funneled into fundraising and delivery of service, so coordination of volunteers is sometimes forced to take a back seat. Indeed, the Urban Institute study indicates that half of staff members responsible for volunteer coordination spend less than 30 percent of their time on this duty.

Investing so little time on such a valuable resource runs counter to almost any managerial strategy. Ideally, a simple answer is to add a full-time staff person dedicated to volunteer coordination. In reality, given limited time and a tight budget, this solution is not likely. Alternatively, a staff member who currently spends only 30 percent of his or her time on volunteer coordination may be asked to allocate more time to the task. Unfortunately, as we’ve all seen too many times, devoting more time to volunteer duties may negatively affect that staffer’s other responsibilities. Between juggling calls to and from volunteers for registration, assignment, and confirmation, a volunteer coordinator’s job is seemingly never done.

A Volunteer Coordinator’s “Virtual Assistant”

Many organizations are turning to technology to streamline the volunteer coordinator’s duties. Type “volunteer management software” into an Internet search engine, and you’ll find information on several services and applications. Exact costs and features vary, but for about $20 a month you can find one that will let you post information about volunteer opportunities; allow volunteers to sign up at their convenience via the Internet; automatically send registration confirmations, event reminders, and thank you e-mails; generate rosters and printable sign-in sheets; and provide record-keeping capabilities.

The return on this investment includes less workload for your staff, greater convenience and better communication for your volunteers, and the ability to ensure that the right number of volunteers-neither too few nor too many-have the chance to work on projects they want to work on, from one-time special events to routine, on-going tasks. A volunteer management application can enhance even the strongest volunteer program, increasing the satisfaction of everyone involved in it.

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This article was published by GuideStar on January 4, 2007.