THE BLOG
02/06/2013 10:33 am ET | Updated Apr 08, 2013

The 27 Best Practices of High Performing Volunteer Organizations

Unless you've been in a coma your entire life, chances are good that you've had the experience of being a volunteer of some kind for a worthy non-profit organization -- local, national, or international.

That's the good news.

The not-so-good news is that many volunteer organizations, in various unconscious ways, sabotage the value their volunteers bring to the table.

Whether it's bad management, poor communication, or the inability to acknowledge people for their efforts, things get funky.

The result? Volunteers back off, quit, or find themselves spending inordinate amounts time grumbling to the other volunteers about how weird the organization is.

I've recently done some informal research on the subject and have identified 27 best practices that high performing volunteer organizations abide by.

Take a peek below. Then, volunteer to share the list with the leaders of whatever volunteer organization you would like to see succeed at a higher level.

Sometimes all it takes is for one person, with vision, mojo, and frustration, to speak up. Like you, for example.

1. Clearly (and often) communicate the vision.

2. Provide clearly written job descriptions.

3. Take the time to authentically welcome volunteers and orient them to their new role.

4. Ensure that volunteers know exactly what's expected of them.

5. Start new volunteers off small. Don't scare them off with too huge of a commitment too soon.

6. Keep the workloads manageable.

7. Communicate progress being made on a regular basis. Volunteers need to see that their efforts are having impact.

8. When there are setbacks or breakdowns, learn from them -- and share your learnings with others.

9. Be prepared so you don't waste people's time.

10. Create a trusting environment that ensures open communication, teamwork, and respect for diversity.

11. Keep everyone on your team informed of the inevitable changes (i.e. direction, policy, timelines, goals, personnel etc.)

12. Provide opportunities for volunteers to switch to different roles they might find more enjoyable.

13. Give and receive feedback (both formally and informally).

14. Provide opportunities for volunteers to learn and grow.

15. Honor your commitments (and if, for any reason, you cannot -- renegotiate them with volunteers).

16. Give volunteers the opportunity to take breaks from the project.

17. Make sure volunteers know they can say "no" if they are overextended or overwhelmed.

18. Enthusiastically acknowledge successes, especially "small wins").

19. Be kind and respectful in all your interactions.

20. Do your best to make sure everyone is enjoying the process of participating.

21. Respond to input, questions, and feedback as soon as possible. Don't leave people hanging.

22. Build some interpersonal chat time into your meetings and conference calls.

23. Teach volunteers, in leadership positions, how to delegate.

24. Even when you are stressed or behind deadline, take the time to make sure your emails have a feeling of warmth to them.

25. Fill out Project Briefs on all projects you are inviting volunteer participation -- and share them with volunteers.

25. Conduct exit interviews whenever a volunteer ends their participation or is asked to step aside.

26. Share your learnings from the exit interviews with other managers.

27. Follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Two volunteer organizations I am working with: Words of Peace Global and One Voice for Laos.

Mitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions, a consulting and training company specializing in innovation, collaboration, and leadership. As the world economy continues to decline and resources become scarcer, it is his belief that volunteerism will be taking on increasing relevance.