nonprofit investments

5 Smart Nonprofit Investments That Pay Off Big Time

If your organization is short on time or money, then making strategic nonprofit investments in your volunteer approach makes a lot of sense.  

Successful volunteer engagement is all about choices in your management and leadership direction. After all, why waste time spinning your wheels on things that don’t work or are only beneficial short term?

Now, it’s time to get strategic. Time to push the pause button — just for a moment — to consider whether or not the choices you are making today, right now, will get you where you need to go.

If you work for a charity, there’s nothing wrong with jealously guarding your time. If you lead volunteers, you are in the business of talent and human resource management. When this goes well, your good cause benefits.

Maybe you’ve already got this nailed? If so, you can stop reading. No need to waste your time here.

But, if you’re wondering where you might focus your efforts – where you might choose to make strategic nonprofit investments that could pay off in the long term – read on. Your time won’t be wasted. 🙂

Three Kinds of Volunteer Investments

Investments come in three categories — time, attention, or funding.  

You can invest time in making program or process improvements or mapping out strategy. You can also invest time in learning. Obviously, we’re big fans of learning at VolunteerPro. It’s what we do. But, in busy, under-resourced nonprofits, an investment in learning needs to be more than simply personal development. It needs to take your organization to the next level.

You can also invest your attention. You can make a conscious effort to gather feedback from volunteers or other stakeholders, paying close attention to their needs. You can give co-workers your attention as you help them resolve sticky situations.

You can also, of course, invest your agency budget. Sometimes investing your funds can also save you time — through outsourcing specific tasks that others can do more quickly or investing in technology to make you more efficient. Funds can also get you access to training and coaching that, in turn, can help you better understand where to focus your attention for better results.

The great thing about investments, is that when you invest in one category, it usually helps with another.

Your First Course of Action: Invest in Systems

The most strategic volunteer investment you can make is in something that will have legs long after you’re gone. When you invest in systems, your investment continues to pay dividends every time you use them. They help make something better not just the first time, but every time thereafter.

Repeatable systems — when carefully designed — save you time because you don’t reinvent the wheel every time. Each team member doesn’t have to figure it out on their own. In fact, when everyone uses the same system, you tend to get better at it as a team. You can collaborate on improvements because you all speak the same language. And, once it’s going smoothly, if you have a clearly documented process, you can delegate to others.

The systems you invest in might be highly tangible — a well-researched and purposefully chosen volunteer management software platform that meets your agency’s precise needs. Or, your investment might be a set of tools you use over and over again, like a series of volunteer surveys that help you assess and prevent volunteer turnover.

Systems can also support one of your agency’s most valuable assets — people. So, you may invest in a highly-responsive volunteer training and onboarding system. Or, focus your energy on training teams to work more effectively together.

When you invest in building the right systems, they save time that you can then invest elsewhere. So, though systems, you’re making a smart choice to expand efficiencies even further.

5 Strategic Nonprofit Investments for Volunteers

Without investment, you can’t expect a return. Below are five smart nonprofit investments that will be worth the time, attention, and funding.

Investment 1: A System for Internal Volunteer Communications 

If you rely on individual or small group emails to communicate with volunteers, you no doubt send the same information over and over again. A smart investment in customer relationship management (CRM) or email software, that can be set to send automated emails, will save you time and the aggravation of keeping track of it all. You can also set up nurture sequences and add intentional touches — like embedding first names — to make it personable.

What’s more, if you can link it with your donor communications system, you’ll have a more integrated supporter and stakeholder communications system on your hands. As I’ve written elsewhere, there’s plenty of evidence that volunteers are donors and donors are volunteers. So, communicating with them through separate silos is a recipe for confusion and ineffective messaging.

Investment 2: A Self-Service Volunteer Training Portal

On-demand training is now an established teaching method. The online education space is booming and affordable course delivery platforms are now available. What’s more, most volunteers are comfortable with live streaming video and many have tried online learning already. So, it makes sense to host at least part of your training online, where volunteers can learn about your organization and their roles at their own pace. 

Online platforms don’t have to feel lonely either. Our VolunteerPro membership community is chock full of lively, energized professionals who feel supportive of one another even when they live in different time zones or even continents.

Investment 3: A Set of Solid Volunteer Impact Metrics That Are Reported Regularly

I’ve written before about the vicious cycle that is set in motion when the proper nonprofit investments aren’t made. This is exacerbated when program performance isn’t measured adequately. Because there’s a lack of investment, there is a lack of results. Because there is a lack of results, there is a lack of proven outcomes. And, when there is a lack of proven outcomes, there’s a reluctance to invest further in a “losing” proposition.  

Having a solid set of metrics you track on a regular basis will not only show proof of impact, it will also help you assess whether specific management interventions are helping volunteers succeed or whether you may need to choose a better approach.

Investment 4: Training for Staff Who Supervise Volunteers

Both paid employees and volunteers who lead volunteer-based teams need to not only understand the technical aspects of their roles, they need to be adept at the relational side of volunteer engagement. Their ability to maintain focus on team goals, inspire others to reach further, coach for performance, set personal and professional boundaries, and resolve all manner of conflict are keys to success. And yet few, if any, leaders get the kind of management training required.

In some ways volunteer supervision is more challenging than managing paid employees. Volunteers are primarily motivated by the cause and can vote with their feet, making their allegiances more tenuous. Paid staff will often stay in a less-than-ideal situation because they need the paycheck. Volunteer loyalty can also turn on a dime, if they feel they aren’t respected or their needs aren’t met.

Investment 5: Volunteer Surveys to Track the Volunteer Lifecycle

Finally, without honest and consistent feedback about the volunteers’ experience, it’s nearly impossible to make smart, informed decisions about where to invest in strategic improvements or additions. Plus, when volunteers feel heard, they are more likely to be satisfied with their experience, thus boosting your retention rates and decreasing the need to recruit.

Deploying a set of feedback surveys that are aligned with the volunteer lifecycle at critical junctures (post training, 30-day, post-assignment, annual, and exit surveys) can help you better understand how the volunteer experience transforms itself through time. This practice also helps you pinpoint and shore up any legs of the journey that need better support.

Investing in Your Capacity to Scale

When it comes to managing volunteer talent, small nonprofit investments in the right place can go a long way. Think about how one improvement can impact the lives of each individual in your entire volunteer corps or each employee on your team.

Rather than making changes because it simply sounds like a good idea, weigh out the benefits. Which initiative or investment is most likely to have a positive impact on your goals and objectives? Also, consider the opportunity cost of doing nothing. If things stay the same, what will you lose?

Management is all about making choices. Nonprofit investments in volunteers and those that support them is often one a smart option because the impact can be exponential, resonating throughout your organization and supporting your bottom line — your mission.

[Facebook Live] How to Use Surveys to Reduce Volunteer Turnover

Volunteer surveys can be used for so much more than gauging satisfaction.
What if you used them to increase your retention rate, make key management decisions, and boost engagement?

Well, you can! We’ll show you how.

Join us for a free Facebook Live, and learn how to make informed, data-driven management decisions to engage more volunteers,
improve their experiences, and keep them coming back.
Plus there’s an awesome freebie in it for you: 7 Secrets to High Volunteer Loyalty Cheat Sheet.

Watch the Replay