Volunteer Frontier's Spectrum of Volunteer Engagement
Well run nonprofits utilize volunteers in a variety of ways - from the traditional direct service role to skilled tasks such as PR, IT, marketing, finance to project management and board governance. While many agencies have direct service volunteers and board members in place, it's the middle duties/projects or "sweet spot" that often goes without enough volunteer engagement. Every project that staff can delegate to volunteers helps leverage paid staffers to do what volunteers are less likely or able to do. As an example, many nonprofits end up paying a company to design and update their website. A qualified volunteer, who works by day for a web design firm, can save thousands of dollars for a nonprofit - money that can be redirected to other vital organizational functions.
Far too often, nonprofit managers get caught in the mindset that staff do certain things and volunteers do other things. In this more traditional human resources model, volunteers follow staff direction and don't have much responsibility or ownership for the programs in which they serve. In short, staff call the shots and volunteers take direction from staff. With this framework, staff don't give much control to volunteers for fear that they'd take over.
Today many high performing nonprofit and government agencies realize that there are many ways to engage volunteers on terms that work well for both parties. Skilled volunteers help with web pages, blogs and IT. Leader volunteers run programs or events with minimal supervision from staff. Even self-directed work teams solve complex organization challenges with staff as members of the team rather than directing the team. The chart below summarizes how the field of volunteer engagement is changing... and for good reason. Today's new breed of volunteer usually doesn't want to be a cog in a wheel anymore - even if they're doing direct service.
The following chart, from the book Boomer Volunteer Engagement by Jill Friedman Fixler and Sandie Eichberg (2008) highlights the way many leaders in the field view the field of service heading. Scott Martin and Temple University have also been leaders in the field and use a similar chart. In short, the field of volunteering is moving from commanding and controlling people to delegating and empowering them.