Converting good intentions in to greater impact

Human Capital Management for Volunteers

Human Capital Management for Volunteers

In 2012, 64.5 million people in the U.S. volunteered at a nonprofit – that’s over a quarter of the employable U.S. population.[1] As demand for services increases and resources remain tight, nonprofits are increasingly relying on volunteers for crucial programmatic and operational responsibilities. Skilled volunteers fundraise, design materials, build websites, offer business advice, manage finances, develop strategic plans, and provide valuable support on countless projects.

At AchieveMission, we aim to increase the impact of organizations by improving their human capital management capacity. By enhancing leadership development, performance management, internal communications, organizational culture, and other key human capital processes, organizations can unlock the full potential of their teams to achieve strategic goals.

Recognizing that volunteers represent a significant portion of the human capital that drives the social sector, high-performing organizations need to ensure that their human capital management systems are capable of being adapted to include best practices in volunteer management. Reimagining Service has made significant strides in helping to raise awareness of these issues and disseminate best practices.

In support of the work of Reimagining Service, we at AchieveMission wanted to take a few moments to reflect on some of the perspectives and practices in human capital management that we have seen nonprofits adapt well, to address skill-based professional volunteer opportunities:

  1. Recruit: Define your needs and attract the best possible talent for that role. Just as you do with paid positions, you need to define the role based on the organization’s needs and the core competencies that lead to success in that role. Undertake concerted recruitment efforts in order to attract a significant number of talented individuals for every volunteer opportunity. Determine fit by asking and seeking to understand your potential volunteers’ motivations and interests.
  2. Select: Use a core competency-based approach to choose the individuals with the highest probability for exceptional performance. Just as you use a rigorous process to select the best staff, you need to treat volunteer positions as highly-valued roles that require a competitive, best-fit approach in order to find the right people.
  3. Onboard: Welcome your volunteer to the team, and establish clear performance expectations and goals. Ensuring that a volunteer feels like part of the team and that s/he knows what is expected from the get-go increases his/her engagement.
  4. Manage: Manage to the role’s performance goals, conduct regular reviews, and support individuals in their work and their development. Set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely). Meet regularly to provide feedback and coaching. Acknowledge exceptional performance and address under-performance.
  5. Develop: Help individuals to understand, articulate, pursue, and realize their potential for personal and professional growth. Create individual development plans. Establish and communicate a development path, which may include more senior volunteer roles and/or a potential path to staff roles for high-potential volunteers. Offer your volunteers opportunities to learn and build their skills through activities like stretch assignments and job shadowing.
  6. Reward: Provide intangible rewards through recognition and celebration. Ask your volunteers what motivates them and match rewards to what they value. Some ways of recognizing volunteers are public recognition on the website or at events, giving them organizational “swag”, and helping them reach professional goals by, for example, providing additional responsibilities and helping them with job networking.

By approaching volunteer management with careful and strategic thought, nonprofits can ensure that they secure talented volunteer leaders in key positions, all of their skill-based volunteers are working toward a clearly articulated set of aligned goals, and the organization’s culture and management processes are set up so as to position these individuals to have the greatest possible impact on the organization. With volunteers representing such a large part of the sector’s workforce, performance-driven organizations have the potential to dramatically increase their capacity for mission impact by embracing human capital management for volunteers.

James Weinberg is a successful social entrepreneur and nationally recognized leader on issues of nonprofit effectiveness, strategic human capital and emerging trends in philanthropy and the social sector.  James is a partner at AchieveMission and is a member of the Reimagining Service Council.


[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Volunteering in the United States, 2012.” February 22, 2013.