Joining those myths-that-will-not-die like "volunteers are free" and "anyone can manage volunteers" is the whopper "all organizations should/can engage volunteers." As anyone who has been a professional volunteer manager can tell you, this is not at all a given.
While many organizations would like to think that they are volunteer-ready, the reality is that a thoughtful and strategic assessment should take place before a successful volunteer program can be launched and maintained. In this section, we provide some resources for determining 1) if your organization should engage volunteers, 2) whether your organization can engage volunteers, and finally, 3) how you can start the process of making your organization volunteer-ready:
Volunteer Victoria, a volunteer center in Victoria, BC, Canada, advises in their 2001 Resource Guide that it is vital for organizations to take the time to assess their volunteer program capacity first as "successful program design can assist your organization to take best advantage of all that a volunteer can bring. At the same time, it can assist you, as a volunteer coordinator/ manager, to minimize the amount of time and energy you spend on day-to-day trouble-shooting in your volunteer program and to maximize your efforts to recruit, support, and keep your valuable volunteers. You will find that the time and effort you spend in planning today will be worth its weight in gold tomorrow."
Indeed, assessing an organization's capacity to engage volunteers can ensure that a volunteer program is well-thought out, volunteer positions are both valuable and meaningful (in other words, benefiting both the volunteer and the organization), and that infrastructure and resources are available to support volunteers in the organization. Given the importance of this process, several assessment steps have been developed:
According to Sarah Jane Rehnborg, PhD. and Betsy Clubine, the first step in assessing whether there is capacity to engage volunteers involves taking a good look at the organization's "history, culture, and cause." Specifically, this means delving into the history of the organization, including whether or not volunteers were engaged in the past and the success/failure of those endeavors, assessing the image and public perception of the organization, revisiting the mission and vision, and considering the organization's in-office work culture.
Easily the most ambitious phase of the assessment process, an organization should be able to make its case as to why it should and/or can engage volunteers. To effectively do this, they should answer a number of exploratory questions, including:
There are a number of free online resources and tools for guiding this self-assessment, including:
Once the initial questions have been probed, it is important to engage the rest of the organization's staff in the dialogue. This will ensure not only that staff have been included in the process but that the volunteer program is planned with a real understanding of areas where training for staff may be needed. Similarly, these conversations speak to the organizational culture and whether it is an appropriate environment for volunteers.
According to the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, a volunteer organization in the United Kingdom, there are several key areas that need to be explored with staff members. First, one should discuss the different levels of experience staff members have with volunteers, including supervisory experience, working side-by-side with volunteers, and whether or not they volunteer themselves. Second, the comfort level of staff members in working with volunteers can be explored by asking if staff members feel there are certain jobs that are inappropriate for volunteers as well as training areas that would be necessary before volunteers come onboard. Finally, the WCVA suggests a frank conversation regarding any concerns staff members might have about including volunteers; for example, asking if "there [are] worries about loss of staff jobs?"
While the WCVA offers their potential questions assuming one-on-one conversation, there are other methods for determining staff attitudes towards implementing a volunteer program. For example, one could administer a questionnaire. Similarly, a suggestion box for questions and concerns could be a good way to garner anonymous, and perhaps more honest, feedback.
Beyond exploring the concerns and experiences of staff members towards volunteers, there is the additional question of assessing need. Discussing volunteer program planning with staff members is an opportunity to find out what their volunteer needs are, what meaningful volunteer opportunities exist in their area, and what kind of management support they can offer.