Millions of volunteers donate their time and hard work year after year for non-profit organizations, and are considered a tremendous resource for the organization. Without these volunteers, many organizations wouldn’t be able to run programs, service their communities, or provide vital resources to their clients.
However, even though volunteers may mean well, there are cases of volunteers causing harm due to malice or negligence. Non-profit organizations are now tasked with trying to utilize volunteers effectively without putting the care or safety of their clients in danger.
Does your organization have a Volunteer Manager? You may want to consider hiring one as your first step to utilizing volunteers effectively and at scale. This position would be responsible for hiring – including screening them – managing, and if needed, terminating volunteers.
Screening your volunteers
Even if seems like you’ve found the perfect volunteer, it is still essential to know who you will be representing your organization – even if that volunteer doesn’t work directly with your clients. Clients and their families want to know that your staff is safe and trustworthy. There’s no quicker way to damage your organization’s reputation than by taking on harmful volunteers – which may lead to diminish community support and funding.
Performing a background check is the simplest way to verify the identity of the volunteer and discover any potential problems. You’ll have access to any criminal convictions, sex offender status, and other records.
Creating a standard volunteer policy and procedure will help you identify the type of screenings necessary for each position, how the background check will be conducted, and what sort of findings would disqualify an applicant.
If your organization has any volunteers involved with any service that will be paid directly or indirectly by a federal care program, you are mandated by the Depart of Health and Human Services Office to screen them against the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities. Failing to catch an excluded person could result in an average penalty of around $300,000.
Managing your volunteers
Having a structured and organized plan for where each volunteer will fit into your operations will keep your organization and work flowing smoothly. Volunteers should be placed in natural places where work needs doing, so they aren’t standing along the sidelines until someone calls for help.
Assign roles, duties and schedules to volunteers just as you would regular employees. Putting volunteers in positions that allow them to utilize their natural talents and skills will allow them to feel more comfortable and be successful. The Volunteer Manager should check in regularly with heads of other departments to ensure volunteers are being used effectively.
Terminating a volunteer
Firing a volunteer can be just as stressful as firing an actual employee. But remember, the most important goal is the quality of their work, and the care of your clients. Even when terminating the worst volunteer, there’s always the possibility of legal and political consequences.
Always make sure you’ve exhausted all alternatives first. This may include supervising the volunteer more closely and enforcing your rules, assigning the volunteer to another position that they may be more successful in, providing additional training, give them a break before they burn-out, or even referring them to another non-profit agency setting where they may excel.
Hold your volunteers to the same termination process as your regular employees. If this includes investigations, and verbal or written warnings before termination, then you should follow this process for your volunteers as well. This should include doing any terminations in a private setting.
Volunteers are an essential resource for all non-profit organizations. Many charitable nonprofits have no paid staff and are run entirely by volunteers. In 2015 one quarter (25.3%) of all Americans volunteered for a cause-related organization. Treating your volunteers fairly and using them strategically within your organization can provide quality service to your community.