Volunteer service can help meet critical community needs, said Lisa Humenik at The Governor’s 16th Annual National and Community Service Conference in Flagstaff, Arizona, organized for AmeriCorps volunteers. In her workshop called “Service as a Strategy,” Humenik, CEO of the Volunteer Center of Southern Arizona in Tucson, described ways to think of volunteers and to enhance their performance for both the volunteer’s satisfaction and the organization’s benefit.

According to Humenik, an organization doesn’t have to be operating on a shoestring budget to benefit from volunteers. Volunteers can enrich even the most well-endowed organization.

Strategic Ways Volunteers Can Help an Organization

Here are some strategic reasons why organizations, whether they are nonprofit, government or for-profit entities, may want to consider welcoming volunteers:

  • Volunteers bring a fresh perspective, a new voice, and diversity to the staff
  • Volunteers extend an organization’s sphere of influence
  • Volunteers enhance the credibility of a program
  • Volunteers make a difference to a program’s recipients and sometimes can relate to clients in a more direct way
  • Because they are not on the payroll, volunteers can be more objective and often more honest during policy-making discussions
  • Volunteers have the luxury of focus because they are usually involved in only one program unlike staff members who often wear many different hats and
  • Volunteers can infuse their passion into an organization

In addition, an organization can float new programs ideas with volunteers without investing in expensive human resource decisions.

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How to Keep Volunteers

To reap these valuable benefits, however, an organization must lay the foundation for its volunteer programs with a clearly articulated, widely shared and openly discussed vision. “Volunteers should be seen as mission critical, not as an add-on,” cautioned Humenik. This means that management at all levels and in all parts of the organization must work together to encourage and facilitate volunteer participation and to increase teamwork between paid and volunteer staff.

Involving people from all segments of the community—even those the organization seeks to serve—is another characteristic of an exemplary volunteer program.

Developing a Management Infrastructure for Volunteers

There are nine key areas for developing an effective volunteer management infrastructure, said Humenik:

  1. Making sure the volunteer program fits seamlessly into an organization’s framework through planning and resource allocation
  2. Designing volunteer work, which includes clear job descriptions and designating a supervisor to coordinate volunteer efforts
  3. Recruiting volunteers through public relations initiatives
  4. Screening and selecting volunteers
  5. Developing an orientation and training program for volunteers
  6. Supervising and partnering with volunteers
  7. Keeping excellent records and producing reports to show the impact that volunteers have had on the organization’s goals
  8. Appreciating volunteer efforts with some type of recognition program and
  9. Evaluating the effectiveness of a volunteer’s’ contribution upon the completion of service.

Even though her workshop focus was primarily on what organizations have to gain by working with volunteers, Humenik said that she believes service is a win-win proposition and that individuals who volunteer also enhance their own well being and self-esteem. She ended the workshop by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “We can all be somebody because we can all serve.”