Lisa Humenik

A simple, but profound, change in how we think about volunteers

posted by
Lisa Humenik

Sigma Kappa National Housing Corporation
Faculty Associate
Nonprofit Management Institute

After 22 years in the fields of volunteer program management and nonprofit administration, I’m often asked by colleagues in the sector for advice on how they can improve the volunteer program in their organization. Before responding, I ask them questions about the roles they have for volunteers, how they recruit volunteers, how volunteers are “on-boarded” to the organization, who supervises them and how, and how successful they are at retaining volunteers.

The feedback that I then give almost always follows a consistent theme – “Your program has the potential to be dramatically improved if you stop needing and using volunteers.” This usually elicits some looks of shock and surprise until I elaborate further and explain that I’m not proposing that they cease to engage the community in their work through volunteerism but, rather, that they modify how they think about volunteers in their organization. The simple, but profound, key is to change the semantics – to talk in terms of “wanting” and “engaging” volunteers rather than “needing” and “using” them.