Too many volunteers…

17 Mar

I just read a fascinating article posted in the New York Times over the weekend. Apparently one of the outcomes of the recession and all the laid off workers is an incredible increase in the number of people wanting to volunteer at their favorite nonprofits.  The article quoted an anonymous nonprofit executive:

“Can you make them stop calling?” groused one nonprofit executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Everybody’s inspired by Obama,” he said, adding: “They also don’t have jobs.”

OK, I am sorry. But really? A nonprofit, who a year ago would have been begging for volunteers, is now unhappy that they have too many? This is a high-class problem for these organizations to have. And today, when technology is as cheap as it is, there are many, many ways to make sure the increase in calls and emails from people wanting to volunteer can be dealt with efficiently and effectively — if someone actually wants to deal with them. Some ideas:

  1. Why not set up a form on their website, drive all volunteers through that form, and push them all to a once-a-month meeting on how to be involved? Minimize the contact and the work on the nonprofit’s side but take advantage of the free resources.
  2. Get a volunteer to run the volunteer efforts. Train that person and then put them in charge.
  3. Set up the proper infrastructure to let you more easily dole out tasks and projects.
  4. Use volunteers to think about creative ways to get funding for new projects.
  5. Talk to 3-4 other small nonprofits that work in your area and band together to better manage volunteers.
  6. Take the time to put a plan in place to figure out where you can use people. Are you blogging on your website? If not, get a volunteer to do it. Is someone managing your social media? Do you have someone to liaise between yourself and community members?

I just can’t imagine how a nonprofit wouldn’t be thrilled, and figure out an effective way, to make use of free resources. Better yet – how about if one of you unemployed volunteers figure out a way to turn this surplus of volunteers into a business opportunity? There has GOT to be a great business opportunity waiting to happen!


4 Responses to “Too many volunteers…”

  1. Nonprofiteer March 18, 2009 at 6:38 am #

    Amen; please see my complementary posting at

    • sabyberry March 18, 2009 at 7:31 am #

      Thanks for the comment. For anyone who is curious here is Kelly’s blog post:

      • Anonymous November 17, 2009 at 9:15 pm #

        As a Volunteer Manager for a large organization, I actually sympathize with the writer of such an article. For an organization of 350+ staff and 700+ annual volunteers with one volunteer coordinator (me) having to deal with 50+ inquiries a week from individuals, corporations, schools, churches etc. wanting to volunteer, while also having to manage, supervise, and evaluate current volunteers, organize appreciation, do data entry and make files for all the volunteers, lead training sessions… etc. etc. it it rough, mentally and physically draining and exhausting and I find myself actually thinking I wish they WOULD stop calling. I think it’s wonderful people want to volunteer but they have to realize the time and effort on the part of the organization that it requires to support them, at least initially, and only apply when they are serious about the commitment volunteering involves. Also, people need to do their research and understand that in many cases it will take some time to become engaged with an organization because we need to screen you for the safety or our clients and coordinate with program staff and managers to ensure you have support, especially if you are coming to us with a new project idea or we need to develop a new position for you.

        I certainly don’t wish volunteers would stop calling (we need their help, and it’s a mutually beneficial opportunity) but I wish they’d be a bit more thoughtful about the toll it takes on the paid staff people like me who get bombarded with calls and e-mails from people who haven’t put much thought into it and say they want to volunteer then don’t follow through or have unrealistic expectations, particularly over Christmas time when it seems suddenly everyone is altruistic. Your ideas for managing volunteers more efficiently are interesting, some are doable and others I doubt I would have staff support for (you know the typical excuse from staff- they are too busy with their own work). Also I’ve found having a website form increases the number of non-serious applicants and actually creates more administrative work.


  1. Posts about blogging as of March 17, 2009 | - Make Money Online, Blogging Tips and Reviews - March 17, 2009

    […] recession . And strong class=keywordblogging/strong can make anyone LOTS of xXx $ gUaP $ xXx Too many volunteers… – 03/17/2009 I just read a fascinating article posted in the New York time […]

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