When you think about increasing your budget for your nonprofit volunteers, do you see a chain link fence or a wide open field?
What you see may impact what you are able to achieve.
As industrialist Henry Ford noted, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Nonprofit Budgets and Nonprofit Volunteer Engagement
Nonprofit volunteers bring strategic value to organizations in the form of special expertise, goodwill, connections to community, compassionate service delivery, and increased trust in the public eye.
However, when we look at what’s included in budgets for nonprofit volunteers, they often fall short. This fact appears to be consistent across countries.
In the most recent VolunteerPro Volunteer Management Progress Report, our global state-of-the industry survey, we found that a scarcity mindset (aka poverty mindset) around volunteers is prevalent. It appears to be having an impact on program effectiveness.
Here are just a few quotes from volunteer managers about their biggest challenges to successful nonprofit volunteer engagement …
“[W]e need to continue to do more with less, and that means our volunteers will not be getting the relational support from staff as before.”
“Finding resources to actually properly develop management of volunteers, takes a lot of time, effort, and human resources, but we don’t find the money to finance all this and not as a side job.”
“[N]ot enough people to effectively manage risk and take advantage of the opportunities that volunteer involvement affords our organization.”
“We don’t have a budget for the volunteer program, so finding ways to appreciate the volunteers year-round is a struggle. Many places that we would normally tap for volunteer donations are already approached for our annual fundraiser and our development director has an informal policy of not asking twice.”
“Our nursing home has many volunteers but no database for volunteers. Getting a budget to add this to my resources is difficult, however, increased communication and data management would be greatly enhanced with this tool.”
“Despite overseeing a volunteer program valued at over $10 million annually, I still do not have a dedicated budget for the volunteer program.”
“The field seems to be filled with overworked and underpaid professionals. So often, organizations don’t value the volunteer engagement work enough to even have dedicated staff doing the work, but add it as “other duties” with no awareness of the amount of work coordinating volunteers is.”
“[A]s a department of 1 for 250 active volunteers in 30 different programs, things like targeted recruitment campaigns are impossible to properly execute. Between being a secretary, coordinator, manager, and director all in one there is no time to excel at anything. We say volunteers are integral to our mission, but we don’t back that up with the resources (human and financial) to properly recruit, train, recognize them.”
So what are organizations that involve volunteers to do?
It Starts With Our Own Beliefs
Breaking the current poverty mindset around volunteer services may rest, at least initially, with those that already recognize the pressing need for adequate resources — volunteer managers themselves.
This might start by addressing our own limiting beliefs about what is possible.
In the face of multiple rejections, it’s easy to assume that funding to support volunteering won’t change. In fact, our minds are wired to work that way.
We humans have a built-in tendency to create patterns of understanding in our quest to understand the world. This tendency has helped us to survive as a species, but it may work against us here. We learn rapidly by associating different things with each other, giving birth to patterns.
The problem with this unique ability is that it can create connections that are false. Although this feels counter-intuitive, in reality, most of our beliefs are not entirely true because they are formed at an emotional versus rational level in the human brain.
So, as we recognize recurring patterns, we form limiting beliefs that create false boundaries. They tell you what you can’t do or what you can’t achieve, even what you can’t be.
Examining Your Limiting Beliefs
Swapping negative limiting beliefs with positive enabling ones can have a huge impact on what we trust can be possible and thus our motivations and actions to move toward a different future.
If we truly believe change can happen, we are reluctant to resign ourselves to failure, and we keep trying new tactics until we get a result. Alternately, when we accept (and believe) that we will never receive the resources we need, we simply stop trying.
You can disrupt limiting beliefs around increasing your budget for nonprofit volunteer services by disputing some of your own assumptions about the perceptions of others, how they view volunteers, and the extent of the change that might be possible.
Start by asking yourself …
What do I believe, at heart, about the resources my program needs? Do I believe we warrant full funding?
What doubts or worries do I have about my own part to play? Is it helpful to think this way?
Aside from what I believe now, what other reasons could be behind a lack of sufficient funding, time, or resources? Is it that people don’t care, or is there another underlying reason?
What proof do I have as to who’s at fault, how permanent the lack of resources will be, or how pervasive the lack of support for volunteers or your department might be at your agency?
If true, is it truly catastrophic?
What can I constructively do to educate others and advocate for our true needs? Is it worth it? Why?
In short, what do I know for sure?
Then, seek to replace your old belief system with new statements of abundance.
Breaking the Scarcity Mindset Around Nonprofit Volunteers
We can re-frame limiting beliefs by replacing them with enabling beliefs and “acting as if” they will be true. This can be an effective tactic even when we can’t be certain in the final outcome.
Below are some examples of enabling beliefs. Use these mantras, or create your own …
My request for more resources might work, so I might as well give it a go.
If I keep doing what I’ve always done, I’ll get what I’ve always got.
I can get my program fully funded if I keep trying.
There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons to learn along the way.
I am intelligent and I can learn how to get buy-in from others.
I do not need permission from others to take steps to get more resources.
My program needs are as important as others at my agency.
Respect for my work comes from within not from without.
Your enabling beliefs might not be completely true at the moment, but they will help you move forward with more confidence. With repetition, you can train your brain to see different patterns. Your mind will also begin to seek evidence your new belief is true.
Does this mean that you can change everything simply by changing your mindset? No one can be sure. But your mindset, along with some specific actions on your part, could be your difference-maker.
One specific task you should take on, along with your abundance mindset, is building a solid budget for your program, even if it’s a 100% in-kind budget. (see our recent blog post how to build a volunteer budget). You’ll need the support of your decision-makers, and taking the initiative to put your budget together is a great first step in claiming your space in the organization’s budget priorities.
But, consider this — If you have limiting beliefs, they may be getting in the way of seeing and seizing opportunities as they arise. Also, leaders who might approve more funding may be taking their cues from your attitude. Neither one is getting you closer to positive numbers on your budget line.
There are things that are beyond your control, but your mind and perspective are not among them.