Wednesday, August 06, 2008

How Important Are The Volunteers At Your Organization? …No … Really

There is no question that the proper use of technology can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of how assets (such as money or people) are managed an organization. At times it can even make those involved with the organization more loyal and happier to be involved with them. Consider how much banks save by reducing the number of branches they open because their clients bank online (efficiency). Consider how the banks’ online service improve the communication flow from themselves and their customers and their customers back to them (effectiveness). Ask anyone who banks online if they would ever consider switching to a bank that does not allow them to bank online (loyalty). Nonprofits trying to integrate the use of technology are faced with burdens that they need to overcome. Barriers include cost, training and time. Professional grade software programs are often considered a luxury that the volunteers and the volunteer program don’t need. Despite the decrees made by most organizations that “our volunteers are our most important asset”, new investments in technology go first to the fundraisers and often run out before volunteer management is supported. I am not so naive to not comprehend the importance of fundraising. The staff salaries, rent, phone lines and the means in which services are delivered are in most cases funded by the work of the fundraiser(s). If we are going to tell volunteers that they are important to the organization however, then the organization ought to actually treat them as important and reduce the amount of lip-service given. Organizations need to ensure that they have a qualified Manager of Volunteers running their volunteer program and that manager needs access to the right resources to do her job effectively and efficiently. This includes funds for training, books, recognition and technology and the time to engage all of these. If the volunteers are one of your organizations most important assets, treat them that way. This doesn’t mean just being nice to them. It means that you take the management of the volunteers’ contributions of their time as seriously as you manage the financial contributions to the organization. Because of my involvement in the local community, I happen to attend a number of events where the CEO or ED speaks and almost every speach contains that poetic phrase about "our volunteers are our most important asset". I have got myself in hot water more than once by later asking the CEO or ED why it is that they make that claim when their managerial actions related to their volunteer program suggest the opposite.