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Volunteer Shortage Is a Talent Management Issue

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Thu Aug 10 2023

Volunteer Shortage Is a Talent Management Issue
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Since before the pandemic, US nonprofits and other organizations have struggled to recruit and retain volunteers. According to the US Census Bureau and AmeriCorps survey, volunteer participation was at 23.2 percent, dropping seven percent between 2019 and 2021—the largest decrease the survey has witnessed since its 2002 inception. Whether because of financial hardships brought on by job insecurity or time constraints, people are increasingly opting out of donating their most precious resource: time.

And with nonprofits usually juggling multiple priorities, projects, and responsibilities, it can be hard for their leaders to carve out time to solve the volunteer recruitment and retention problems they’re facing. Yet, without addressing this pressing issue, they find themselves without the volunteer talent needed to continue to deliver on their mandates and missions.

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Solving this shortage will require out-of-the-box thinking and a new approach to attracting quality volunteers. Essentially, nonprofits and organizations must adopt talent management techniques conventionally used by private companies to recruit and retain their talent to survive the national shortage. Effective talent management policies not only empower companies to hire and retain the best talent, but they also help that talent perform at their highest levels while encouraging them to stay with the organization long term. This approach can aid nonprofits in hiring and keeping their volunteers. The question then becomes: How do nonprofits adopt talent management, and what are the best tips? Here are four talent management techniques to deploy:

Focus on Volunteer Experience

A popular tenet in talent management is the emphasis on employee experience, which includes talent’s touchpoints and corresponding experiences with a company from first contact during recruitment to onboarding, promotions, and offboarding. Similarly, nonprofits must now focus on volunteer experience as well. With potential volunteers experiencing both financial and time constraints, nonprofits must create a volunteer experience that entices them to volunteer with that nonprofit. They must focus on, for example, the onboarding process and homing in on how to make volunteers feel welcome and important in the nonprofit. What about the workplace culture of the nonprofit? Is it inclusive to new volunteers? How can it be improved with the volunteer experience in mind? Through emphasizing volunteer experience, the way top organizations highlight employee experience, nonprofits can create the environment and volunteer culture needed to attract volunteers to their mission while also encouraging them to stay with or return to that organization.

Valuing Volunteers as Talent Resources

To combat the volunteer shortage, nonprofit organizations must shift their perception and view volunteers as valuable talent resources rather than temporary “helpers.” Volunteers can be encouraged to return to the nonprofit or stay with it by offering them work that aligns with their career goals, helping them upskill. Or volunteers’ perspectives can be included in high-level management decisions, communicating how important their input is to the nonprofit organization. Nonprofits can provide opportunities for skill development and advancement within the organization, creating a mutually beneficial relationship that fosters long-term volunteer engagement. Recognizing the skills, experiences, and unique perspectives volunteers bring will instill a greater sense of purpose and commitment, leading to higher levels of engagement, participation, and overall satisfaction with their volunteer journey.

Encourage Recognition and Rewards

While volunteering is often perceived as thankless (yet selfless) work, it shouldn’t be. Another principle of talent management is rewarding top performers or high contributors with perks, monetary rewards, awards, or other recognition. While nonprofit organizations often do not have the budgets that corporations may have, nonprofits should not ignore the intent behind such activities. Recognizing the dedication and impact of volunteers can foster a sense of value and satisfaction, leading to increased volunteer retention and attracting new individuals seeking to make a meaningful difference in their communities. By embracing recognition and rewards principles, nonprofits can cultivate a culture of appreciation and inspire volunteers to continue their valuable contributions. Recognizing exemplary volunteer work doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. An outstanding volunteer can be given a simple “award,” naming them as volunteer of the week, for example, paired with a simple celebration. Or a high-performing volunteer team can be treated to a potluck lunch. There are many ways to reward and recognize volunteers, and it's important to do so.

Leverage Nonprofit-Private Partnerships

Collaborating with private sector companies can be instrumental in boosting volunteer numbers. Nonprofits can establish partnerships to leverage the resources, expertise, and networks of corporations, expanding their reach and attracting more volunteers. In turn, private sector companies can offer employees volunteering opportunities during work hours or provide incentives to encourage involvement with their nonprofit partners. Such partnerships address the volunteer shortage, enhance corporate social responsibility efforts, and foster stronger community ties.

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The volunteer shortage experienced across the country necessitates a fresh approach. Adopting a talent management perspective is the key to finding a solution. By valuing volunteers as talent resources, employing talent management techniques, and forming partnerships with the private sector, nonprofit organizations can address the pressing issue of volunteer shortages. Recognizing the significance of volunteer engagement and retention is essential for building a sustainable volunteer base that will contribute to the continued success of nonprofits in their vital work. Let us embrace these actionable insights and work together to recognize and value volunteers, creating a society enriched by the generosity of its people.

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