I love volunteers . . . I really do!

I love volunteers . . . I really do!

How do I get my well-intentioned volunteers to follow through on what they committed to do?


Stuck Executive Director

I love volunteers - when I started in nonprofit years ago I was that volunteer working a 50-hour-a-week corporate job who went home and worked another “full-time job” by volunteering for a nonprofit. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it - but I was super passionate about the mission (and single at the time!). Better yet, there were probably 10-15 other core volunteers working alongside the team - their energy really catapulted the mission and organization through those initial sticky start-up processes and early years.

But, once the organization was fully up and running with a few full-time staff members, I found it increasingly harder to use volunteers. There were timing issues, not-quite-the best-fit issues, and areas where well-meaning volunteers lacked expertise. I struggled with this - aren’t nonprofits built off the backs of volunteers?

There is this fine line of volunteer appropriate tasks vs. paid-professional task - and it’s different for every single organization. So, how do you know when it’s time to shift the responsibility to a paid professional?

Over 77% of US nonprofits never reach $1M in annual charitable revenue (Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy).

Ironically, I believe this topic is one of those sticking points that cause an organization’s funding to plateau and not grow.

Don’t hear me say volunteers are not valuable.

They are extremely valuable - but your roles for volunteers need to be constantly reviewed and modified to support your growth initiatives. There comes a time when the role simply grows above the duties and reasonable time commitments of a volunteer position. These are good growing pains!

The decision to move a task from volunteer to paid professional is not cut-and-dry, so I’ll share an example. I hope these issues resonate with you and help you know if it’s time to make a change to grow your nonprofit.

Example: Volunteer Bookkeeper - I love when an accountant steps up to the plate early on in the life cycle of the organization to help with this monthly task! There are countless organizations I’ve worked with over the years who have had a volunteer bookkeeper along the way. On the flip side, this volunteer role is one of the most time-consuming ones, and expectations must be set early so that the work is performed on a regular basis. This is also one of those roles that often becomes too much work for a volunteer as the organization grows. Here are a few indicators that it’s time to make a shift to paid professional:

Your books aren’t being reconciled by the same date every month. You need your numbers every month to make informed growth decisions for your organization - you must be on top of your numbers for your major donor meetings and conversations.

Sometimes three months go by, and the books aren’t touched. Same comment as above - plus these gaps put you behind schedule when it comes time to create your annual government filings. It forces you to file extensions - which you don’t want to do (see my previous blog)!

You still don’t know how to read your financials because the volunteer doesn’t have time to review and analyze trends with you. You don’t need a CPA license - but you do need to understand your financials. You need to be able to speak to a donor about your plans for the upcoming year with tight financials to back them up. I want you speaking in percentages of growth, spending per program, income trends per donor segment . . .

Reports are not regularly translated into digestible documents your donors or board members can use. It’s your job to be a translator to your donors by pulling out elements of your financials and graphically providing healthy trends as well as upcoming needs. A donor needs to know how they fit into your funding structure - and you often have a short time frame to tell them. They don’t need an export of your P & L - but they do need a one-page financial snapshot.

Do a quick check with your current set of volunteers - has your organization come to the place where it needs a paid-professional to perform a specific task so that you are better equipped to run your business? This is not a scary topic if you involve the volunteer in the transition while celebrating how far they brought the organization through their service and passion.

Your volunteers want you to succeed, use them wisely!

Every month I tackle one of the most common statements or questions I hear from leaders of Nonprofits.

Ready to put aside the constant hunt for funding? Interested in learning how? Here are three ways I can help you.

1. Get FREE TEACHING. Discover the proven system that consistently raises more money to fund your mission every year. And perhaps more important, learn the things that are keeping you from growing and making it harder for your donors to give! Register here.

2. In the next 90-days, learn how to secure larger donations to fully fund your mission. If you want to move into mid- and major-level individual gift programs for your nonprofit, but you’re not sure what your next step is, I can help. Just email me here and mention my 90-day program and I’ll get you the details.

3. Work with me privately. If you'd like to work directly with me to level-up your current development process and grow your charitable revenue tremendously, just email me here. Tell me a little about your organization and what keeps you up at night when it comes to your funding, and I'll get you all the details.

- Sherry

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