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Tips for Nonprofit Volunteer Managers

by | Sep 10, 2020

From her earliest philanthropic adventures as a Brownie in South Carolina to being honored by The Independent as a member of the 2019 Class of Rising Stars, Kathleen Johansen is a volunteer extraordinaire. 

In this special Q&A, she shares what nonprofits can do to enhance the volunteer experience and keep volunteers engaged. 

TIPS FOR NONPROFIT VOLUNTEER MANAGERS FROM KATHLEEN

  • There is not a one-size-fits-all volunteer. For each volunteer role, be honest and provide a description of expectations prior to their commitment.

  • People crave data and want to know how they helped. Follow up with how their volunteer commitment helped enhance your nonprofit’s mission. 

  • Consider creating volunteer personas to help them figure where they would best serve.

  • Create a welcoming environment for your volunteers. If they feel unwanted or not acknowledged, they won’t be coming back and will probably give bad reviews to their friends, family, and colleagues, which not only could impact volunteers but donor dollars. 


What do you get out of volunteering on a personal level?

I love connecting with people when I volunteer. About 12 years ago, I was volunteering at a flu-shot clinic for elementary students. I was manning the activities table when a little girl sat down at the table. You could tell she was terrified to be there. I asked her if she could help me with a puzzle. I used it as an ice breaker for us to chat and hopefully get her mind off the flu shot. My goal was to reassure her she was in a safe environment and while the needle would only hurt for a few seconds, it would help protect her from the flu. Ten minutes later her name was called. I gave her a thumbs-up, and we high fived. She was slightly less anxious and looked confident walking up to the nurse. After it was over, she gave me the biggest hug and told me how grateful she was that I was there. Before she left, she wanted to finish the puzzle with me. 

How can nonprofits better connect with volunteers and create experiences and environments that keep volunteers engaged? 

There is not a one-size-fits-all volunteer. Some love to interact with people, ask for donations, or role-up-their-sleeves and get their hands dirty. Then there are others who prefer solo responsibilities behind closed doors. For each volunteer role, be honest and provide a description of expectations prior to their commitment. For example, will they be on their feet all day, do they need to make cold calls, could there be potential for unruly people they will encounter? Provide orientation and training for your volunteers so they understand their role – there is nothing worse than being thrown in the trenches as a volunteer. To keep your volunteers engaged, send a thank you to show your appreciation. Also, people crave data and want to know how they helped. So, follow up with how their commitment helped enhance your mission. A happy hour is a great way to say thank you. While budgets are tight and people want to be physically distanced, consider hosting a virtual bingo, trivia or name-that-tune event. 

What are some of the stumbling blocks nonprofits unconsciously create for volunteers that create high turnover rates?

Nonprofits must be clear with volunteers that their role may change. For example, I set up a volunteer experience with several colleagues at a small nonprofit. We signed up to prepare freezer meals for their clients. Our past experiences had been very fun—cooking together and interacting with the clients—which brought us back. When we got there, a staff member said we were not going to prepare the meals but instead sort through clothing donations. 

How can they change or improve? 

Consider creating volunteer personas to help them figure where they would best serve. A few years ago, in the Junior League, I chaired our Transfer Education committee for members who had transferred from other leagues across the country. After a year of helping them become immersed in Kansas City culture, their expectation was to then sign up for a volunteer placement either within the League or through a community partner. I created several volunteer personas based on interests, hobbies and careers to help set them up for success during volunteer placement.
 
Can you share an example or two of a particularly good nonprofit volunteer experience? 

I have had meaningful volunteer experiences with Rose Brooks during their annual Carnival, Mother’s Day and Holiday Store events. During Carnival, I got to personally connect with their clients during the event. I was so amazed at their resiliency. The residents wanted to feel normalcy in their life and to connect with other women to talk about hobbies, recipes and their children. 

Preparing meals at the Ronald McDonald House Charities is another great volunteer experience. It’s the perfect volunteer event with your co-workers or friends.

If you could give one piece of advice to an executive director or volunteer manager, what would it be? 

Create a welcoming environment for your volunteers. If they feel unwanted or not acknowledged, they won’t be coming back and will probably give bad reviews to their friends, family, and colleagues, which could not only impact volunteers but donor dollars.

 
ABOUT KATHLEEN

Kathleen Johansen became a lifelong volunteer more than 30 years ago in South Carolina. Her first volunteer experience was with a Girl Scout troop in Orangeburg, S.C., where she worked on many projects to support senior citizens in her community.

Understanding the critical importance of fundraising, Kathleen has helped raise more than $3 million dollars for Kansas City organizations. As the United Way of Wyandotte County campaign manager at The University of Kansas Health System and co-chair of the Health System’s own employee giving campaign, she has helped raise more than $2 million since 2012 for patient and community programs. 

Kathleen has served on fundraising committees for the Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri, HappyBottoms, Mission Trail Elementary, Reach Out and Read and Rose Brooks. She also is chairing three fundraisers this fall: HappyBottoms Attitude of Gratitude, The American Red Cross Genevieve Byrne Speaker Series and the United Way employee giving campaign. She currently serves on the boards of the American Red Cross (Greater Kansas City and Northwest Missouri chapter) and Reach Out and Read. 

Kathleen was honored by The Independent as a member of the 2019 Class of Rising Stars.

 

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