June 2, 2022

Episode #008: Where Should Volunteer Services Live at Your Nonprofit

This week we’re looking at some of the different departments that volunteer services could be housed within at your organization, with the pros and cons of each option.

The Right Team is Important

It is a common occurrence in sports: an athlete who seems to constantly struggle on one team gets traded and suddenly becomes a high-scoring star player. People are surprised by the perceived turnaround of the athlete but in reality, it is evidence of the importance in finding the right team to maximize your knowledge, skill, and talent.

That’s what this week’s episode is all about. More specifically, it will help you answer the question: what team should the volunteer manager or volunteer services department be on? In other words, where should volunteer services live on your org chart?

Six Organizational Options for Volunteer Services

There are many possible departmental matches for volunteer services. Tobi breaks down six options, with the pros and cons of each.

Option 1: Aa stand-alone volunteer services department, reporting to Human Resources or to the Executive Director
Option 2: The development department, reporting to the Director of Development.
Option 3: In the marketing/communications department, reporting to the VP of Marketing and Communications
Option 4: Working in the outreach and community partnerships or community development department reporting to the VP or program director
Option 5: Embedded in the guest or client services department reporting to VP or program director
Option 6: Working in the special events department, reporting to the VP or program director

Benefits and Drawbacks

Every department in an organization comes with its own unique benefits and drawbacks. Tobi examines these practically, and she gives specific tips on how to avoid potential issues when merging volunteer services within a larger existing department.

Tobi shares this info from the perspective of volunteer directors searching for the best fit for their team, as well as the executive leadership looking at the larger corporate structure and how the organization can operate at maximum effectiveness and efficiency.

Volunteer Services is Bigger Than a Department

While a single department may be accountable for volunteer services, it really should be made clear by the executive team that ALL teams and staff are responsible and expected to champion volunteer programs and efforts. Supporting volunteers should be everyone’s job, because volunteers support every aspect of your organization.

Whether it’s from the front desk to the executive office, we all have a part to play in helping volunteers make a difference in our community. Finding the right “team” for volunteer services within your org chart is an important step in reaching that goal and maximizing the impact of your volunteer services department.

Highlights from this Episode

00:00:34 Tobi shares a personal story of watching soccer matches with her husband and watching how different players perform within their team dynamic.

00:01:24 Tobi relates that image to volunteer services and asks listeners about their own “team.” Does the team help you gain traction or your goals, or are you struggling to get buy-in from management? These indicators will help you decide if it is perhaps time for volunteer services to change “teams” within your organization.

00:02:48 Tobi starts with Option 1: a standalone department that reports to the Executive Vice President or the Director of Human Resources. This approach communicates the value of volunteers as part of the primary strategic importance to the agency. It shows that volunteers are recognized as a vital element of mission delivery and seats volunteer engagement at the executive leadership table.

00:05:29 Tobi explores Option 2: housing volunteer services within the development department, reporting to the Director of Development. With this approach, there is coordination of supporter communication and resource cultivation, and better collaboration around outreach, fundraising, and partnership development.

00:09:20 Tobi looks at Option 3: locating volunteer services in the marketing and communications department, reporting to the VP of Marketing Communications. This option offers better communication around community engagement, brand messaging, and social strategy, as well as timely expertise with copywriting, graphic design, and webpage updates.

00:14:05 Tobi continues with Option 4: housing volunteer services within the community development office, reporting to the VP or program director. This approach acknowledges that volunteers are a valued community partner and that they are viable service providers, and it offers a unique focus on corporate social responsibility and employee volunteering opportunities.

00:17:56 Tobi discusses Option 5: locating volunteers within your Guest or Client Services department. This option recognizes volunteers as a key element of the customer or client experience and offers better coordination of customer service standards across paid and unpaid teams.

00:21:13 Tobi looks at Option 6: placing volunteer services within the special events department, reporting to the VP or program director. This option offers better coordination of safety and security standards for events across paid and unpaid teams, as well as greater camaraderie and easier access upcoming event information.

00:26:37 Tobi encourages you to think through what would work best at your organization and make the case for change if needed.

Key Quotes on Volunteer Services

“One of the things that becomes clear in sports is that different players perform differently on different teams. A player might struggle or be benched on one team, and then they’re traded to another team and they suddenly become the lead goal scorer. It happens all the time.”

“When you blur paid staff and volunteer roles, it becomes a real issue in terms of nonprofit sustainability,”

“It really is everybody’s job. Supporting volunteers, whether it’s from the front desk to the executive office…everyone has a part to play in helping volunteers make a difference.”

“Have you ever felt like you’re on the wrong team, that the vibe isn’t good, that you struggled to be understood, or that your work simply isn’t valued? It could be that if you switch teams, you might get better traction.”

Transcript of Episode 008
Listen on Apple Podcasts

Want More? Check out Our Time + Talent Podcast!

Whether you’re looking for solutions, inspiration, or just want to hear what others are doing to successfully engage volunteers, Time + Talent is the podcast for leaders of volunteers.

Co-hosts Tobi Johnson, MA, CVA and Jennifer Bennett, CVA bring you uplifting and insightful conversations with thought leaders and volunteer management practitioners who are redefining their roles, and the roles of volunteers.


About the Show

Nonprofit leadership author, trainer, consultant, and volunteer management expert Tobi Johnson shares weekly tips to help charities build, grow, and scale exceptional volunteer teams. Discover how your nonprofit can effectively coordinate volunteers who are reliable, equipped, and ready to help you bring about BIG change for the better.

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