Volunteers work at Share Our Selves. Solid management skills are vital for nonprofits.
By Julie Holdaway

Published in the Orange County Register on June 10, 2013

The way to get people to come back is to lead them well, train them and recognize their work.

We've all heard it; we've all said it, "I'm too busy. I am juggling so much!"

It's the mantra of our daily lives. Yest people manage to spend an average of eight hours a week on Facebook alone. That's one full work day.

Are we really that busy?

Nonprofits hear "I am so busy" all too frequently. Unfortunately, as volunteerism has dipped in recent years, we've been hearing it more and more.

I suggest busy has little to do with it. In fact, most volunteers do not quit because they are too busy. Surprisingly, those who are arguably the busiest among us also volunteer the most. Over 40 percent of working moms volunteer each year compared with 26 percent of the rest of the population.

I believe this: The words "I don't have time" are a common euphemism for volunteers who really are trying to say something else, something more like "I wasn't led well the last time I volunteered, and I don't want to waste my time again."

According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, "nonprofits rely heavily on volunteers, but most do a poor job of managing them. As a result, more than one-third of those who volunteer one year do not volunteer the following year."


To be specific, the bigger message here is not that nonprofits are not managing well, but that too many are simply not employing volunteer management practices at all.

While most nonprofits provide regular supervision and communications with volunteers, less than half match volunteers' skills with appropriate assignments, and only 1 in 4 provides training to do the specific assignments.

Research by the Urban Institutes suggests nonprofits need to center efforts on enriching volunteer experiences. To increase volunteer retention, nonprofits need to specifically invest in screening, matching, training and recognizing volunteers.

I am always surprised to hear that only 35 percent of nonprofits recognize and thank their volunteers.

Recently, a volunteer committee chair explained that at her nonprofit, they don't offer personalized recognition, because they are afraid of forgetting anyone. In the famous words of the great Dr. Seuss, "I'm sorry to say so, but, sadly, it's true, that Bang-ups and Hang-ups will happen to you."

Yes, you will forget a name (or two). It's inevitable. For those unfortunate mix-ups, when you forget a name (or two), immediately institute Plan B: profuse apologies and a genuine note of appreciation. The important thing to remember is the tens, hundreds, maybe thousands of volunteers you thanked for lending their limited and valued time and talents.

I have a confession: I recently quit a volunteer project with a favorite nonprofit. When I quite, I gave on of those "I don't have time" platitudes. I lied. If I had been honest, I would have shared that I was frustrated with too little direction and leadership. I don't think I did them any favors by hiding the truth.

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