Nonprofit Neighbors Rewind: Working with Volunteer Groups

For-profit/nonprofit Partnership / Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Nonprofit Neighbors Rewind: Working with Volunteer Groups.

We had a great group come together earlier this month, including several volunteer managers, coordinators and recruitment officers. Our regulars were present, which is always wonderful, plus it was nice to see some new faces from Ronald McDonald House of Kansas City, Serve KC and the Johnson County Public Library to name a few.

For those that don’t know, Nonprofit Neighbors is a free, monthly brown bag forum that VolunteerMark sponsors to build a community among charitable organizations in the Kansas City area. We discuss a wide range of ideas and issues on the first Wednesday of every month from 12-1 p.m., beginning with our feature organization and topic.

For January, our feature organization representative fell ill the day before so we had to postpone her introduction. However, our feature topic — Working with Volunteer Groups — was a smash hit and led to some great discussion and ideas. Here are some highlights:

  • Communication is key. That’s a no-brainer but the issue continues to give volunteer coordinators headaches. The biggest problem seems to be a lack of response, from both incoming volunteers and staff members. Best advice: Streamline communication through a systematic process that includes emails, text messages and/or social media platforms. Several attendees recommended CRM or volunteer management systems.
  • Plan ahead. Again, this tip seems obvious when working with volunteer groups, but often it’s overlooked. The bigger groups get, the harder it gets to control them so be ready in advance. Best advice: Have several plans or processes in place for small, medium and large groups. For scheduled groups, have a list of objectives to be completed and then an extra one in case they have more people or are overachievers.
  • Orientation can be a time waster. Several of the attendees expressed frustration with how long required orientation sessions took away from actual work. For many nonprofits, orientation and legal releases have to be signed, thus taking up valuable time. Best advice: Develop a system to complete orientation before the volunteer outing. It could be online videos or emails during the scheduling process, but the more that can be achieved in advance, the better.
  • Build relationships. This seem to be the No. 1 takeaway from last month’s meeting. The better relationships developed with volunteers, the more likely they are to return. Volunteers often make up the majority of a nonprofit’s workforce and so need to feel appreciated. Best advice: Make the volunteer experience as best as possible with quality communication, scheduling and management procedures. Also, send thank you notes via mail, social media or phone calls. The extra step will do wonders in creating a lasting impression.

Be sure to join us for our next Nonprofit Neighbors meeting on Feb. 5 inside Room 114 at the UMKC Innovation Center (4747 Troost Ave. Kansas City, MO 64110). To sign-up for a seat, receive the forum’s newsletter or just get more information, visit

– Brent Lager