Volunteers are a tremendous resource for charitable nonprofits. Absent volunteers, many charitable nonprofits would not be able to conduct programs, raise funds, or serve clients. The vast majority of board members who serve on charitable nonprofits’ boards are volunteers.
Did you know?
- According to the IRS, 85% of all charitable nonprofits have no paid staff and are run entirely by volunteers.
- Volunteers should not receive compensation for their services (receiving it can turn them into “employees” in the eyes of the law).
- In many states, volunteers are not covered by workers' compensation insurance, which is why some nonprofits elect to purchase "volunteer accident insurance."
- Volunteer time has value – but volunteers cannot deduct their time on their personal income taxes.
- For purposes of a nonprofit's annual report to the IRS, Form 990, volunteer time is NOT reported as a contribution (see also FASB Accounting Standards 116) but may need to be acknowledged on Part III, Statement of Program Service Accomplishments.
Best practices for managing volunteers
Managing volunteers is similar to managing paid staff, except that volunteers don’t expect to be compensated for their services. However, they do expect to be treated with respect, trained (as needed), supervised, and provided with feedback, and rewarding experiences.
Some nonprofits only engage a few volunteers a year – others several hundred volunteers each day! The extent to which your nonprofit relies on volunteers will determine how extensive a “volunteer program” is needed at your nonprofit.
All the steps nonprofits take to ensure the “right fit” in the workplace for paid staff apply equally to volunteers. Many nonprofits screen volunteers (some even conduct background checks on volunteers). Orientation programs for volunteers are common, as are recognition programs that reward volunteers for their service. Many nonprofits adopt written policies that apply specifically to volunteers and find that providing volunteers with a “volunteer handbook” is useful.
- An example is this excerpt from the policies and procedures of the National Wildlife Foundation.
- A-Z Volunteer Management Resources (Energize, Inc.)
Data on volunteers
The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes an annual report sharing data on the number and demographics of Americans volunteering in their communities. The Corporation for National & Community Service also publishes an annual report: Volunteering in America. The value of volunteer time is calculated annually by Independent Sector.
- Time and Money – The Role of Volunteering in Philanthropy (Fidelity Charitable)
Tools for Managing Volunteers
- Model Volunteer Policies Handbook (National Wildlife Federation).
- Sample Youth Volunteer Waiver and Publicity Release (Asante Africa Foundation)
- Sample Minor Waiver (Habitat for Humanity, San Antonio, Texas)
- Sample Adult Volunteer Waiver (Habitat for Humanity, San Antonio, Texas)
- Rather than building a volunteer management program from scratch, why not collaborate with another nonprofit or tap into existing volunteer programs in your community, or “share” a volunteer program coordinator?
- The HandsOn Network offers database solutions for volunteer management; local volunteer centers are excellent resources for nonprofits and prospective volunteers alike.
- New technology is being created all the time to track volunteer time, match volunteers to service opportunities, and communicate with volunteers via mobile devices. Top volunteer management software in 2014.
- Tracking Volunteer Time To Boost Your Bottom Line – A Complete Accounting Guide (Blue Avocado)
- Principles and practices for strong volunteer management (Minnesota Council of Nonprofits)
- Overview of the cycle of volunteer resource management (ServiceLeader.org)
- Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers (Urban Institute)
- Benefits of Volunteering (Corporation for National and Community Service)
- Top 15 things to know when managing volunteers during a disaster (HandsOn Network)
- Energize, Inc. offers a variety of resources on volunteers and volunteering, including Satisfying Staff First, an article by Ivan H. Scheier that presents an analysis of the complexities of the relationship between volunteers and staff
- Volunteer Risk Management (online tutorial - Nonprofit Risk Management Center)
- Legal considerations when engaging volunteers (CharityLawer Blog)
- Tax considerations for volunteers and volunteer programs (IRS Phone Forum recording)
- All about Internships (National Council of Nonprofits)
- Read about pro bono services, skilled volunteers, and e-volunteers
- Find a volunteer center in your state
- VolunteerMatch offers resources to boost your nonprofit's volunteer program
- Evaluating your volunteer program (Volunteer Hub)