Monday, March 5, 2012

Keeping Up When Times Are Tough

Katie Bull and Mary Quirk
“How do I keep up?” is a common question we hear at the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA). Many volunteer programs are running on a tight budget and experiencing increasing demands for volunteers. We have collected ideas from MAVA members on how they cope with fiscal stress as well as rapid changes in volunteer availability and organizational needs for volunteer service:

1. Streamline and standardize practices for intake of volunteers and involve volunteers in the intake and training. Often the “bottleneck” in bringing on board much needed volunteers is the time it takes to get them started. Some strategies that have proven successful:
• Use group sessions to cover the standard information about the organization and volunteering, saving one-on-one time for learning about the volunteers. If you find yourself repeating the same information to volunteers individually, figure out how that information can be conveyed in a way that takes less of your time.
• Have the forms and processes for volunteers to come on board as simple and standard as possible, so you do not have to “recreate the wheel” for something you have done before.
• Look at how volunteers can be involved in that initial intake and orientation. Can a volunteer: Do a first interview? Respond to communication from interested volunteers? Do part of the orientation? Do on-the-job training for volunteers?

2. Explore less time intensive volunteer recruitment. With the trend of volunteers making shorter term commitments, recruitment becomes a bigger job. Here are some ideas to address this:
• Involve volunteers recruiting other volunteers. Ask volunteers to help you find more people like them. Give volunteers business cards to recruit friends. Offer a prize to volunteers who bring in the most volunteers.
• Form partnerships with schools and other organizations to recruit volunteers. Invest in creating a volunteer “pipeline” where a relationship with a school, church or business will create an ongoing stream of volunteers.
• Make the most of web recruiting, listing opportunities at your local volunteer center or Have a vibrant, visible invitation to volunteer on your website.

3. Look at time efficiencies through use of technology. One of the biggest changes we are seeing in volunteer programs is new use of technology.
• Explore options now available for volunteers to sign up for opportunities on line through free web tools such as
• Become aware of generational preferences in communication (e-mail, phone, social media) and use communication forms that will get the best results with the least effort.

4. Advocate for resources for engaging volunteers. Investing more in volunteers might be a wise decision for your organization. Put together your data on the value volunteers bring and make the case to the key decision makers in your organization.

MAVA is a statewide organization that provides resources to the volunteer community. For more information on engaging volunteers, check out MAVA’s website at or e-mail

Post by: Katie Bull, MAVA Membership, Communications and Services Manager
Mary Quirk, MAVA Executive Director

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