Defining roles for volunteers and why it matters

By: Heather Davidson

Activate and Grow Your Volunteer Network 

Nonprofits are the safety nets of our communities—weaving the protections that support our most vulnerable. Organizations are asked to solve complex systemic issues requiring time, capacity, and resources. Few resources are as invaluable and transformative in nonprofits as dedicated volunteers. Driven by passion and a desire to make a difference, they offer their time, skills, and enthusiasm to support the organizations’ missions that align with their values. Harnessing this volunteer power effectively can not only increase your capacity and impact but also the ability to tap into and cultivate new donors. 

Why Volunteer Engagement Matters

Volunteers build the framework of many nonprofits, providing human capital that might otherwise be beyond the organization’s financial reach. They bring diverse skills and perspectives, supplementing paid staff with their expertise in areas ranging from marketing and fundraising to direct service delivery and administrative support.

The Cloud 9 Team recently had the opportunity to work with a client, Heart Gallery of Broward County, to help their organization with defining roles and job descriptions for their volunteers. Dr. Mary Kinirons, CEO, captures this sentiment well: “Volunteers of all kinds have huge hearts and want to know how best to support their favorite nonprofits. From board members to general volunteers, it is vital for them to understand the expectations of their role and how to collaborate with the nonprofit meaningfully and effectively.”

Setting the Stage

For nonprofits to fully leverage the potential of volunteers, it’s essential to establish clear frameworks and operationalize your expectations. This not only ensures that volunteers understand their roles but also helps streamline operations and institutionalize engagement so it becomes a part of your organizational culture: 

Here’s a guide to crafting effective volunteer engagement strategies:

  1. Define Clear Roles and Responsibilities:
  • Role Descriptions: Identify the support you need and outline the specific roles volunteers can fill, such as event coordination, mentorship, technical support, or strategic planning.
  • Responsibilities: Clearly outline what each role entails, including time commitments, required skills, and reporting structures.
  1. Develop a Formal Onboarding Process:
  • Orientation: Provide comprehensive orientations to familiarize volunteers with the organization’s mission, values, and goals. These can be virtual, in-person, or even pre-recorded videos. 
  • Training: Offer training sessions tailored to different roles to ensure volunteers are equipped to contribute effectively.
  1. Establish Communication Channels:
  • Regular Updates: Keep volunteers informed about organizational developments, successes, and challenges through emails, newsletters, and social media.
  • Feedback Mechanisms: Designate a point of contact for volunteers.
  1. Foster Meaningful Engagement:
  • Recognition: Acknowledge volunteers’ contributions through formal recognition programs. Don’t forget to acknowledge them publicly, privately, and meaningfully. 
  • Feedback: Solicit feedback from volunteers on their experiences and suggestions for improvement through post-engagement surveys.


Beyond Immediate Support

Effective volunteer engagement goes beyond immediate operational support; it builds a community of advocates and potential donors. Volunteers who deeply understand and engage with an organization are more likely to become long-term supporters, potentially transitioning into donors or even board members. This deepened connection creates the “Why” that keeps volunteers passionate, engaged, and mission-driven. 

While volunteer engagement offers tremendous benefits, nonprofits often face challenges in managing and retaining volunteers effectively. Limited resources, including time and staff capacity, can make investing in robust volunteer management practices difficult. However, organizations can lay a strong foundation for sustainable volunteer engagement by identifying needs, developing clear roles, and a structured onboarding process.

Volunteer engagement is not just about filling gaps in staffing; it’s about building a community of committed individuals who share a passion for the organization’s mission. As Dr. Kinirons emphasizes, “Documented roles and responsibilities, as well as a formal onboarding process, will not only create strong impactful allies to the mission but help ensure a sustainable volunteer base and a strong board of directors.”

Don’t shy away from volunteer engagement. Look at your organizational needs and the people around you to lay the framework for deeper engagement in your community.