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Directors of Volunteers

The Job

Many nonprofit organizations rely on the strength of their volunteers to meet their mission goals. Some nonprofits operate with a full staff of volunteers. It can be a tremendous undertaking to organize, train, and monitor volunteers—each with his or her skill level, personality, and time commitment. Most nonprofit organizations, especially those dealing with a volunteer pool of hundreds or even thousands, rely on a director of volunteers to oversee the process.

The director of volunteers must first assess the needs of his or her organization. Habitat for Humanity International, for example, is an international nonprofit organization that aims to erase housing poverty and homelessness. A director of volunteers working for this organization would first identify the needs of a particular project—for instance, rebuilding an area affected by a recent natural disaster. He or she would determine the types of volunteers needed—various construction crews, engineers, architects, as well as other related workers—and then recruit the workers to tackle the project.

Recruiting volunteers is an important task for the director. Volunteers are not paid, so they must agree to do the work based solely on their good intentions and commitment to help others or raise public awareness about an issue. Awareness for a project needs to be raised to attract and motivate new volunteers. The director often works with the nonprofit's marketing or public relations department to get coverage in local newspapers, on broadcast stations, on social media, or though press kits or mass mailings. He or she often appeals to local businesses, schools, religious organizations, and social groups for volunteers.

Directors are responsible for creating a volunteer descriptor that explains the particular assignment and its purpose, the location of the project, and skills and abilities required. Commitment expectations also need to be clearly identified. Some nonprofit projects, such as volunteering for a local blood drive benefiting the Red Cross, may last a few hours. Other projects, such as participating in a Big Brothers Big Sisters program, may call for a yearlong commitment.

Volunteers may sign up through an organization's Web site, headquarters, or local chapter, or may join a group through their school, church, or local government. Names of potential volunteers are then forwarded directly to the director.

Once a pool of volunteers is assembled, the director begins to identify and group them according to their skills and time commitment requirements. Certain skills or educational backgrounds are mandatory for certain volunteer positions. Volunteers drawing blood at a Red Cross blood drive, for example, would need to be nurses, physicians, or phlebotomy technicians. An Amnesty International volunteer observing a trial or interviewing a victim of genocide may need a legal background to effectively gather, document, and assess information. 

Once candidates are identified, the director or an assistant conducts a short interview with the individual to ascertain if he or she is a good fit for the project. The director also conducts background checks at this time, depending on the size and resources of the organization and the nature of the project. Volunteers are usually asked to supply a list of character references, but may be asked to undergo a more thorough background clearance, especially when the project involves children. It is the director's responsibility to reject a potential volunteer, especially when the individual's motives for volunteering are in doubt. In such cases, being a good judge of character is imperative.

Many volunteers come as part of a group. The director works with the group to accommodate its time frame—whether it is a short amount of time, say during a lunch hour, or a larger commitment block such as during a school's spring break.

The director arranges for training and orientation for all volunteers. The amount and level of training offered will depend on the project at hand. At a vertical climb in a skyscraper to raise awareness for the American Lung Association, volunteers helped with many different aspects of the event. Volunteers in charge of positioning the athletes at the starting line or dispensing water and bananas at the finish were given training and orientation, but to a lesser degree than those volunteers assigned to administer first aid. While many of these volunteers were already in the medical field, their training and orientation included learning about exit routes from the venue as well as the proper way to document medical treatment provided to injured or ill participants.

Recognition of volunteers is important, even after the project or event is completed. Directors work to thank volunteers on large projects by holding award dinners or implementing a Volunteer of the Month award and publicizing it in local newspapers or on radio or television. Many directors may write personal thank you notes to volunteers or award them certificates of achievement.

The director of volunteers may have other duties such as fund-raising, developing educational programs, and media relations. Some directors may be in charge of contacting area businesses to solicit monetary donations or materials. For example, directors working for a literacy group or mentor group may appeal to local publishing companies for donations of books or magazines to help with their cause. Some directors may be responsible for summarizing project data and taking photos for use in press releases and media kits.

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