Running a Nonprofit: How to Plan for Volunteers

Most start-up nonprofit organizations depend on volunteers because money to pay staff is unavailable. But a lack of resources isn’t the only thing that drives a nonprofit to run with an all-volunteer staff. Some nonprofits make a deliberate decision to operate solely with volunteers to contain their costs and to achieve results with a collective effort among people who care deeply enough to contribute their time and effort.

How to determine your nonprofit’s need for volunteers

Look around your nonprofit organization and decide how many volunteers you need and what functions they can perform. You should creating (or helping your volunteer coordinator to create) a schedule of tasks to be completed — planning what needs to be done and how many people it will take to do the work.

By having a list and prioritizing the tasks, you know what to do when an unexpected volunteer walks in the door.

Task Number of People Time
Data entry – donor list 1 person 3 hours per week
Bulk mailing 4 people 5 hours per month
Lawn cleanup 1 person 2 hours per week
Childcare 2 people 3 hours on Saturdays
Filing 1 person 2 hours per week

It’s possible to have too many volunteers. Almost nothing is worse than asking people to help and then finding out that you have nothing for them to do. You may want to have both your chart of immediate tasks and a few back-burner projects in case you end up with more people than you need on a given day.

In the beginning, you may have to experiment before you know exactly how many volunteers you need for a particular job. For example, you may eventually discover that a 2,000-piece mailing takes about five hours for four people to complete. You also may find that hand-addressing envelopes takes longer than using labels and that preparing bulk mail takes longer than doing a first-class mailing.

How to write nonprofit volunteer job descriptions

Volunteers perform better if they know what they’re supposed to do. Preparing job descriptions for volunteer positions also helps you to supervise better and to know what skills you’re looking for in volunteers.

Volunteer job descriptions should be even more complete than paid-employee job descriptions. And if you can break jobs into small tasks, all the better, because volunteers often share the same job.

For example, a different person may answer the office telephone each day of the week. In that case, to bring consistency to the job, you can keep by the telephone a job description that includes a list of telephone procedures, frequently used telephone numbers, and other important information.

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