By James D’Ambrosio

Some time ago I wrote about managing volunteers in a  general sense. Since this topic is so important to nonprofits — some established agencies have many volunteers as do some start-ups low on funds — it’s worth a closer look. There are specific steps you can take to build strong relationships with people  freely giving their time and talent.


Based on personal and professional experience, consider the following:

1) KEEP THE NUMBERS MANAGEABLE: This cannot be overstated. If you have a full- or part-time volunteer coordinator, gauge how much time they have to steward volunteers — meetings, scheduling, monitoring assignments, etc. Ensure they can properly manage ALL your volunteers. If you spread yourself too thin and can’t be available when people need you, you risk losing them. Better to have fewer dedicated volunteers than an army you can’t manage.

2) MATCH SKILLS & EXPERIENCE TO TASKS: Volunteers run the gamut from experienced, well-educated professionals to people with much less business experience and acumen. Make sure there’s a reasonable match between what needs to be done and what that person can do well. This is especially important with positions involving contact with the public or handling sensitive information.

3) PROVIDE GUIDANCE: When a volunteer first comes aboard, communicate often — providing guidance with assignments, answering questions, and helping them become acclimated to the office environment —much like you would a paid staffer. This will reduce how often they come to you with questions, freeing up time for other tasks.

4) SHOW APPRECIATION: This is very important, and it doesn’t have to be elaborate. While some agencies hold formal recognition ceremonies — a good thing, I was once honored — don’t wait for a major event to show your gratitude. A genuine “thank you” for a job well done, praise at a staff meeting where the volunteer is present, or free tickets to a special event will suffice. Simple gestures like these often mean a lot to people and help build goodwill. 

5) GIVE BACK WHEN POSSIBLE: Volunteers help increase organizational capacity without compensation. If you can reciprocate in a meaningful way, do so. For example, if a volunteer is job searching and consistently produces quality work, provide referrals to appropriate opportunities or a contact for networking. In today’s economy, more people volunteer to stay current. Lend them a hand.

6) THINK LONG-TERM: However long a volunteer is with you — whether it’s 10 days or 10 years — the relationship doesn’t have to end when they leave. If their experience is positive, they can be an ambassador for your agency — referring other volunteers, spreading word of your good work, making a donation, attending fund-raisers, etc. Be mindful of such things when working with volunteers. Taking the long view can reap rewards.



What do you think of these ideas? Anything else you’d like to add?


By James V. D’Ambrosio

As a communications and nonprofit professional dedicated to the betterment of the nonprofit sector and those working in it, I’d like to weigh in on today’s very challenging job market and discuss ways job seekers can best use their time to maximize chances for landing a position. 

It’s been clear for some time that we are in a period of prolonged economic uncertainty punctuated by high unemployment and scarce job opportunities across many sectors. Even top economists cannot be certain where things are ultimately heading. I am not an economist, but I can say with a fair amount of confidence that in terms of employment, we are moving toward an era of shorter job tenure where people will be changing jobs more often. In fact, credible sources have noted that today’s college graduates can expect to change jobs 12-15 times during their career — an unsettling reality, but one that must be dealt with. So what to do?

First, realize that securing a professional position today — one requiring a college education and/or significant experience — will take longer as the market is flooded with applicants and HR departments are drowning in resumes. (I know several people that have been looking for more than a year.)   

However, there are constructive things people can do to stay engaged professionally and increase their marketability while seeking employment. Here are three considerations:


Volunteering. Offer to volunteer for a nonprofit agency one or two days a week in a professional capacity. This will accomplish several things: a) keeping you in the  mainstream professionally; b) providing an opportunity to showcase your talents to others who may be in position to help; c) if the organization likes your work, it can lead to a paid position; and d) it gives you an excellent response during interviews when hiring managers ask, “What are you doing now?” You can find many volunteer opportunities listed at www.idealist.org or www.volunteermatch.org.

Expand, Sharpen Your Skill Set. Take a course or attend workshops in your field. This will increase your marketability and help allay prospective employers’ concerns about skills deteriorating while unemployed. This is especially important for those experiencing long-term unemployment (six months or more) which is a reality for many job seekers.

Network, Network, Network. It has long been known that employers prefer hiring people they know or those referred from a trusted source. If you limit your search to answering ads, even if you interview well, you can lose out to others that come recommended. So try joining a professional organization related to your work. Attend meetings, introduce yourself to others and get known. After you’re settled in, ask for informational interviews to exchange ideas about how to move your search forward and referrals to others who can help. This approach does require significantly more work, but it has a far higher success rate.

To be sure, there is no certain way to land a professional position in this economy. If there were, I wouldn’t be writing this column. Basically, it takes a great deal of work and persistence, along with an unshakable belief in yourself and what you have to offer. Making the most of your time — engaging in activities that keep you professionally relevant — will better equip you for when that next opportunity presents itself.

QUESTION TO READERS: What other suggestions do you have for finding professional employment during these challenging times?

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