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Maximizing Your Budget with Volunteers

Many small staff associations have big ideas but aren’t always able to execute due to a lack of resources, staff, time – or all of the above. Now is the time to learn how to do more with less by really engaging your volunteers.

Volunteers can function almost as a second staff if done correctly. According to research done by Points of Light, for every dollar a non-profit association spends toward volunteer engagement, they can expect a $6 return. WHOA – that’s HUGE. But how can YOU leverage those potential volunteers?

Having worked for a variety of organizations, I’ve seen many different ways associations leverage their volunteers. There’s the good, the bad, and the ugly.

  • Good: Volunteers developing textbooks that the association owned moving forward
  • Bad: Volunteers being entirely in charge of content selection for conference without staff input
  • Ugly: Volunteers being in charge of the gala – including content, speeches, and presentations – without running rehearsal, resulting in overly long presentations/speeches and zoned out attendees

So, in order to leverage the brain power of your volunteers in an effective way, try first writing down some key functions around three main areas:

  1. Solutions to problems (example: not enough money to do x)
  2. Fulfillment of needs (example: conference registration or member benefit development)
  3. Creating things that arouse feelings (example: testimonials, personal explanations of how membership excelled one’s career)

Once you’ve outlined some functions or deliverables under each bucket, get creative in how volunteers can help. Try these idea generation techniques:

  • ABC Avalanche (by Workshop bank)
    • This is a basic idea generation exercise where you list something – be it a task or idea – for each letter of the alphabet.
  • Write down 10 ideas every day
    • Keep a running list at your desk and discuss once a week with your larger team. Choose 1 and tackle it with your volunteers.
  • PDSA (Plan – Do – Study – Act)
    • This is a fairly simple way to make minor improvements over a period of time. Make your plan, do it, study the changes, act accordingly – either repeating the change (if successful) with an additional change, or changing course.
  • Get out of your office/space/head
    • This is my favorite. A change of scenery can be so helpful in generating more creative ideas.

Finally, don’t forget to meet your members where they are with a variety of opportunities. Move beyond the common micro volunteer opportunities, and also consider offering “slipper jobs” and “jeans jobs.” Slipper jobs are tasks that people can do from home in the background (maybe calling or emailing new members to welcome them in); whereas “jeans jobs” are more visible for the extroverts out there, like pounding the pavement for small, local conference sponsors (once it’s safe to do so again).

Hopefully these tips will help you engage your volunteers to help your organization deliver on its mission. Tell us how you plan to engage volunteers to keep delivering your mission!

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