Why Involve Volunteers?

There are many, many organizations and online resources to encourage people to volunteer, and lots of materials that answer the question "Why volunteer?" But what about from an agency's perspective? Why involve volunteers? Why value volunteers? What are the potential benefits for an agency that involves volunteers?

If your agency answers these questions with, "Volunteers save money" or "We don't have enough paid staff to do everything that needs to be done," you might want to seriously rethink your volunteer program and the way you talk about it. Statements like this can be potential dangerous -- what if a funder asks why you have paid staff at all? After all, volunteers could do the jobs for free (which has happened, and led to a reduction in staff). A labor group could also perceive such statements as an effort to avoid paying people.

Volunteers help your organization meet its mission and better serve the community. In everything you say and do regarding volunteers, that statement -- or a variation of it -- should be your agency mantra. How do volunteers do this?:

  • They demonstrate community investment and endorsement
    Other than testimonials from clients served, what better way to show that your organization is valued by the community?
  • Some populations prefer working with volunteers
    For instance, some youth in the criminal justice system respond better to volunteers than they do to paid staff brought in to support them -- in their view, the volunteer is there because he or she "wants" to be, while the staff person is there because he or she "has" to be. To address such perception issues, many organizations involve volunteers.
  • They can do things staff cannot do re: public policy
    Volunteers can endorse your organization in front of city commissioners, on the editorial pages of your local newspaper, or in letters to state or U.S. legislators, and are seen as people with no financial interest in your organization -- their comments come as community representatives.

    Also, volunteers can comment publically on legislation or political candidates that could impact your organization; they cannotdo this as representatives of your agency (nonprofit and public sector organizations are prohibited from this form of lobbying) but they can offer such endorsements as individuals.

Other Reasons to Involve Volunteers

  • Volunteers can help you reach new audiences
    Volunteers have connections through their work and social circles, and can become informal ambassadors on behalf of your organization to these collegues and friends.
  • Volunteers can turn into donors.
    They see, first hand, your organziation at work, and many will want to support this excellent work with financial contributions, or by talking to their company on your behalf about making a donation.
  • Volunteers can turn into staff.
    When a staff vacancy or new position is created, volunteers are a pool of people already oriented to your organization's culture and mission that you may be able to tap.