Great nonprofit volunteers are worth the cost.

Mutual value is what makes great nonprofit volunteers.

Volunteers are at the core of what nonprofits are.

The origin of the nonprofit sector is tied people voluntarily helping each other as neighbors and as entire communities.

Today, hundreds of countries around the world have codified volunteerism into the definition of a charitable organization.

The ability to enlist willing people in uncompensated labor for the common good is a unique and significant advantage for organizations dedicated to tackling the problems of our day not addressed by government or business.

For nearly all nonprofits, volunteerism starts at the top. While it is possible in most places to pay a nonprofits board, most of the 5 million nonprofit board members in the United States serve voluntarily, and without compensation. In fact, the very word “trustee,” used as an alternate to the title “director” in some nonprofits, speaks to the ethos of nonprofit leadership: to hold in trust for the public good.

See the webinar Nonprofit Volunteers, here.

[BTW: Where did the number of nonprofit board member’s come from? The Independent Sector, a national advocacy group for nonprofits, puts the number of nonprofits in 2019 at 1.6 million . Since nonprofits almost always have a minimum of three board members, then 1.6 million x 3 = 4.8 million. Considering so many have more than three board members, then 5 million is probably a conservative estimate of the number of nonprofit board members.]

To see how nonprofits can use Nonprofit.Courses to support their boards, click here.

While nonprofits are not required to have volunteers, the ability to enlist volunteers is a major, valuable advantage. Volunteers are an extremely valuable tool in bringing your mission to as many people as possible. Even if volunteers cannot be used for direct service delivery, such as when licensed professionals are required by law, volunteers can serve vital support roles in administrative tasks, maintenance duties and most importantly, revenue generation.

See Nonprofit.Courses videos, podcasts and document resources on volunteer management and training, here.

Volunteers bring so much more than meets the eye. The professional experience volunteers bring is often much more than a typical organization of similar size and budget could afford. Then there’s the unquantifiable life experience and enthusiasm for your mission. Volunteers provide a fresh perspective on what you do, bringing new eyes to old problems.

Great nonprofit volunteers come to your organization for a wide variety of reasons.

  1. Are they volunteering because your nonprofit helped them, or they received help from a similar organization?  
  2. Do they need to connect with others? Maybe they’re new to an area and want to build a network of friends with similar interests. Maybe they already have friends who volunteer with your nonprofit?
  3. Are they looking to protect something, or someone they love? While we usually think of “preservation” in environmental terms, your volunteer may feel the need to protect a vulnerable person like a child, a grandparent or a disabled person, or a culture or neighborhood.
  4. Is it expected? Some people volunteer because they’ve been raised in a family where volunteerism is expected. They also might feel that to maintain their social standing in their community, they need to volunteer.
  5. Is in based on faith? Many religions encourage assisting others, in or out of one’s faith community. It’s a powerful driver for volunteerism.

As much as volunteering aids the nonprofit and those it serves by willingly providing no-cost labor, its not a one-way street. That’s why its important to understand your volunteer motivations to help them get the most out of their experience, and thus help them help your mission.

And while a volunteer’s labor is free, nonprofits quickly find out that to maximize their volunteer’s assistance, they need to put in time and money, especially in areas such as…

Use screening for everyone’s protection.

Everyone deserves to be safe, and unfortunately, not everyone who volunteers, as well intended as they may be, is safe for your mission. Many municipalities, states/provinces or other government entities will provide background screening free of charge to nonprofits. Some organizations require the volunteer to pick up the cost. But even if you need to pay from your organization’s budget, consider the consequences if you omit this important step. Not screening can hurt anyone personally injured, and the irreparably damage nonprofit’s reputation.

Great nonprofit volunteers deserve insurance protection.

Screening implies liability, and liability points to insurance.

Many US states try to encourage volunteerism by limiting their liability for a volunteer’s actions while working for a nonprofit. But this may not be enough, depending on the state and the circumstances of services. It’s very important to understand your risks, and provide insurance when necessary. And for board members, this could be especially important, since most don’t want to put their personal future in jeopardy for doing good deeds.

Record keeping will help raise money, and more.

Next on your list should be a good database program. Why? So you can recognize volunteers for their service. So you can contact them easily. So you can show everyone how important volunteers are to your great work. Oh, and money. Database information is great share with funders so they see the community interest in your mission. Also, by using the same database as the fundraisers, you’ll be able to see whether your volunteers are donors, too.

While you can keep the records you want on a spreadsheet or create your own database, there are plenty of off-the-shelf programs for the task. In fact, you may already own the functionality you need that’s embedded into a fundraising gift processing program. Besides basic demographic data, like name, address, contact numbers and etc., consider tracking the volunteer’s hours.

To keep great nonprofit volunteers working, they need supplies.

Of course, you want your volunteers to be as effective as possible in supporting your mission. So, do you give them what they need to do their job? Providing supplies so volunteers can accomplish their assigned tasks is an often-overlooked, essential expense. Even if you expect a volunteer to bring their own supplies, make sure that you account for it so you can give them donation credit at year’s end. Your accounting program, like QuickBooks, is a great place to record the information.

Your volunteers don’t know what to do with those supplies unless you tell them. That brings us to another overlooked expense, staff time.  Providing leadership and guidance is key to getting the most out of your volunteers.

Some volunteers need access.

To do their job effectively, many volunteers, especially board members and fundraisers, need access to documents like financial statements, marketing material, reports on projects progress and more. There’s an entire class of software called “board portals” that can help with this, but simply providing access to a Google Drive folder can often be more than sufficient.

Start right.

Like anything else, to have an effective volunteer program, you need to get them started right. Get the FREE Nonprofit.Courses Volunteer Onboarding Checklist.

Summing it up.

Nonprofits and volunteers can have a mutually beneficial relationship that meets everyone’s goals and needs. Still, like any worthwhile mission focused initiative, it will cost time, and even some money to do it right. That investment could make the difference between effectiveness and frustration.


Don’t forget the most important resources for volunteers: New Course Alerts from Nonprofit.Courses. Each week you’ll see the latest Nonprofit.Courses content, plus events and other activities from our Content Experts. Sign up, now.

Leverage Nonprofit.Courses with Great Nonprofit Startup Training

Nonprofit Startup Training can launch your dream

of a better world, a better community… a better life… for someone… somewhere… some time.

There’s too much of…

There’s not enough of…

We need to save…

We need to stop…

We don’t want that…

Dreams alone don’t solve problems. You need people. You need organization, you need action, and you need money. And if you’re just starting out, you need education.

That’s how Nonprofit.Courses can help.

Nonprofit.Courses is a perfect place to cost effectively pick up information and skills to make your nonprofit successful.

See all of the videos, podcasts, documents and more in the Start Up category.

It starts with Nonprofit Startup Training in the Process

Want to get started right? Check out the #1 Tip to Start a Successful Nonprofit and 3 Ways to Test Your Nonprofit Idea. Then watch Who Owns a Nonprofit , What if people say my nonprofit idea sucks, and Start a Nonprofit to Make Yourself Money. These could be some real eye openers.

Then think about starting your educational path by watching the Nonprofit Start Up Essentials video set 1, “Know your Why.” It’s an important question to ask because starting a successful nonprofit isn’t easy. There’re a lot of details, and if you can’t articulate to yourself and others exactly why you want to start a nonprofit, and why its important, you may not get through the process.

See The ABC’s of FORMING YOUR 501(C)(3)

For example, did you know that in the United States you can’t just apply to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) to become a 501c3? You need to be incorporated by your state or territory, first.

That’s if its even right for you to become a 501c3. You’ll probably pick a 501c3 in the end (more than 70% of US nonprofits are) but you have 27 different nonprofit type choices, such as a 501c6 business association, or a 501c4 advocacy group. Which is right for you?

Avoid problems by watching this video: Biggest Mistake When Applying for 501c3.

Here’s a way to take it all in, one day at a time. Maybe you start your nonprofit startup training with the free 10-Day Nonprofit Startup Bootcamp

Or maybe you want to take a social enterprise approach? Establishing a nonprofit may not be right. Are you better off being a business and designating your enterprise as a public beneficiary corporation, or a B-Corp.? Check out Top tips for non-profits to generate innovative and feasible social enterprise ideas.

It could be that establishing an independent nonprofit isn’t right for you, at all. Have you heard of fiscal sponsorship? It’s like renting someone else’s nonprofit designation and running your program under their umbrella. See Things You Should Know About Fiscal Sponsorship, including Where To Find One.

Your Board

Of course, starting right can make all the difference in the success of any enterprise. And your board is at the heart of your start.

To get off on the right foot, see the # 1 Mistake Startup Nonprofit Boards Make

Then se the answer to this important question: How many board members for your startup nonprofit?

Then, who will be on your board? Friends and family? Easy to sign up, but not your best choice. Why? They’re doing this for you, not necessarily the cause. They’ll often put your friendship ahead of asking the hard questions. Plus, depending on your circle of friends and family, they may not be qualified to ask any questions at all.

Nonprofit Startup Training in Fundraising

Even if you’re an all-volunteer group, you’ll need money for all sorts of program expenses. What are your options? Fundraising can be a big part, but there are lots of other options. See ten right here.

Startup Funding for Nonprofits

But if you go with traditional fundraising, there’s an important fact that not a lot of people outside fundraising circles know. Businesses and foundations account for less than 30% of all giving to nonprofits. Who gives the rest? Individual people, in gifts big and small. And if you count their closely held businesses, and their bequests, the number from individuals rises even higher. So you need to think seriously about asking individuals, whether in person, by mail or mail, though social media, by holding events or any number of other ways. You’ll find resources for just about every kind of fundraising, here.

Were you thinking of grants? Before you spend a lot of time on looking for foundations, get a behind the scenes look in this series. It’s important to know that foundations and businesses don’t just give money to anyone. To start, your mission needs to match the purpose of the foundation. As a start up, you won’t have a track record of success to point to. How about the experience of the people coming together? It’s also important to know that as a concept, “grantwriting” is a bit of a misnomer. Personal interaction with funders plays a big part in the process.

But if you still decide that grants are the way to go, this is essential information: How Not to Pay a Grant Writer.

Build Trust with Accurate Accounting

You know what builds great trust in a nonprofit? Well, consider that you can have the greatest, most innovative programs, but if your accounting is poor, donors won’t give. An investment in QuickBooks training could save your reputation.

Marketing and Communications

Like a business, a nonprofit can’t exist without customers. Whether you call them clients, patients, students or have your own special word – you need to serve someone. But have you asked yourself, “how will they know we’re here to help?”

This is why marketing and communications is key. How do you plan to connect with your mission recipients, their families and the community at large? You can probably name the delivery tools, like social media, personal networking, advertising and more. But have you decided on what you’re going to say? What’s the message? Is it consistent with how the people you want to reach hear things in their community?

Check out all of the ways you can communicate here.

Let’s get started!

As you can see, getting a nonprofit off the ground won’t be easy. You need a solid start to make it sustainable. While statistics may not be available on this, anecdotally it’s clear that the funnel to creating a nonprofit from a dream to still existing after five years of operation is extremely wide at the top, and dramatically narrow at the bottom.

Millions of people dream of helping others. A good number will say “I should start a nonprofit.” A lot drop out when they see how much work it entails, and even some money, just to get set up. Among those who jump through the hoops, a good number never get traction to offer any meaningful programming. If they do create programs, is the enthusiasm and dedication to the mission still there a year or two later? And just as important, can they find the funding they need to keep going?

This isn’t to discourage you at all. Until all of the world’s problems are solved, we’ll still need nonprofits to solve them – and yours could change a life at exactly the right time, in exactly the right place to make a global impact.

Know that everyone at Nonprofit.Courses want you to get beyond starting, so you can thrive in delivering your mission. Check out our videos, podcasts, documents and more. With each step, come back for more. Get New Course Alerts to see what’s new. And through it all, make it a great, nonprofit day!

Oh, one more thing: Keep up with everything Nonprofit.Courses has to offer by signing up for New Course Alerts.

On Demand Nonprofit Staff Training makes a Major Difference

Nonprofit staff training can’t happen fast enough.

Your executive director is on the phone.

She’s just been to a board meeting and she sounds tired. Really tired.

“I need you to give me a marketing plan by week’s end,” she demands. You can hear the stress in her voice. “I need to give something to the board by next week!”

“Ahh, okay,” you reply tentatively. You think to yourself, “where am I going to learn about marketing in a week?”

Then you remember…. Nonprofit.Courses.

Then the hesitation melts away. “Sure thing! How’s Thursday?”

That’s one of the perfect uses of Nonprofit.Courses. Thousands of videos, podcasts and documents ready for you to catch up quickly on nearly every nonprofit subject you can think of.

But there’s more.

How’s your career?

In addition to the comprehensive collection of skills-based content, Nonprofit.Courses has videos and podcasts specifically on how to move your career ahead, at whatever stage you’re in.

Not just your own discipline, but other’s.

And speaking of skills, Nonprofit.Courses is where you can drill deep into your current discipline, and learn about other disciplines son you can serve your mission better. For example, let’s say you’re the organization’s accountant. Of course, there’s accounting content on Nonprofit.Courses and you also found fundraising content. Since you work so closely with the fundraisers, educating yourself in their world could be helpful – and it was. In fact, you got a good laugh when you say your development officer’s face when you started to talk about CRUTS, CRATS and CGAs over lunch.

Even more important, by easily getting out of your discipline’s silo, now your development officer feels comfortable bringing up new ways of giving, so your discussions can move your mission ahead in ways you never imagined.

See content expressly for your career, right here.

Board Training

While we’re at it, when you bring up planned giving to your board, you get blank stares, until one of them says “I get things about that from my university. I didn’t know we could do that, too.”

You find a video on Nonprofit.Courses that explains the basics and share it with the development committee. Its just what you need to get everyone up to speed and start a discussion. And you know that the chances of them watching are a lot better than giving them a lot of paper.

That went so well, you came up with an idea. You found a number of videos on board governance and created your own a custom training for your board. Each month you sent a new video to them. And some months you made your own using the video creation tips you found on Nonprofit.Courses.

See content for Board Training right here.

Staff Training

You took the same idea to your staff. Every one of your staff found something they could use on Nonprofit.Courses. Everyone benefitted from the tech tips they found in the Teacher’s Tech videos. Guila Muir’s presentation videos were a great help to the people meeting with the community. When they scanned the list of content experts, they found nonprofit staff training opportunities that they never would have considered.

Then one of your staff pointed out Tracks. Tracks are sets of videos around a theme that can be viewed individually, or as a group. They’re great for diving deep into a subject since they allow the absorption of information over time.

See all of the Tracks on Nonprofit.Courses

Nonprofit Humor

Whether you’re on the line serving your mission, or behind the scenes funding it, promoting it or leading it, working at a nonprofit is a high stress job. That’s why we all need a laugh once in a while – so why not laugh at ourselves?

See our Nonprofit Humor page by clicking here.

What’s your next step?

When it comes to staff training, there simply isn’t enough. what you found on Nonprofit.Courses is plenty to last for a long, long while. But just so you don’t miss anything, you sign up for New Course Alerts to get the latest content to move you, and your staff ahead.

Looking at a Nonprofit Career?

Transitioning to a Nonprofit Career won’t be easy, but it could be worth it.

 It’s time for something different. It’s time for a job that has meaning. It’s time for using your skills for good! It’s time to look at a nonprofit career.

You’ve always been generous. Anytime you’ve seen a need, especially in an area that connects to who you are, you’re there, ready to help.

Plus, you’re willing to work hard, maybe in less-than-ideal conditions.

  • Maybe it was when you walked in the rain to raise money for cancer research after your best friend went through chemotherapy?
  • Or were you at the town meeting when your favorite tract of land, the one that you hike with your kids, was threatened with development?
  • Are you there to help your school because you got so much from it, and you see even greater need in the kids, today?

Its time to look at making a full-time job of it. But where do you start?

This is a perfect time to explore Nonprofit.Courses.

Find a Mission

First and foremost, nonprofits are mission driven organizations. You’ll find that a lot of people hired by nonprofits are extremely dedicated to the missions they serve.

So, your first step is to identify missions that resonate with you. (Get your free Nonprofit.Courses List of Missions.)

It won’t include absolutely everything (what list can?) but it will give you a solid start on eliminating what mission you can’t imagine working with, which you’ll consider, and the ones you love.

Inventory Your Skills

Skills you need to work in a nonprofit can be classified into three categories.

Program Skills. These are the skills or professions that directly serve the mission of the organization. For example, if you work at a homeless shelter, you will find rehabilitation counselors. If you work at a private school, you’ll find teachers. If you work at a health clinic, you’ll find nurses.

While some people who come from the business sector have the education and certifications in areas that are mission related, most don’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t get an education and certification in these areas. It’s just that it will take more time, and usually some amount of money.

But you may not be out of luck. Some skills don’t require certifications, or better yet, will train you on the job. They tend to be lower level positions, or because the barrier of entry is lower, less well paid.

Skills that have equivalents in business. Accounting, human resources, marketing, information technology and others you can find in business and nonprofits. Yet as similar as they are, they’re different, too. As someone new to nonprofits, you need to get versed how they compare, and begin to educate yourself.

Skills that are unique to nonprofits. There are a few things that you simply won’t find in business. Top among them are fundraising, grant proposal writing, program evaluation, volunteer management and if you’re in education, student recruiting. If you’re coming from the business sector, especially sales, you may find that you have a lot of transferable skills in these and other areas. Just know that you’ll face a bit of a learning curve.

See the Content

If you’re breaking into the nonprofit sector, there are two kinds of Content you want to consider on Nonprofit.Courses.

Career Content. This is content created by professionals in nonprofits that targets career issues. These are great “words of wisdom” videos that give you insider perspective on the work, and discuss advancing your career once you have a position.

Technical Content. If you know which skill you want to bring to your nonprofit job, or want to explore which skills are right for you, then start binge watching the content related to that.

This can be very important if the top level title has a lot of sub-specialties which require different skill sets. Take fundraising as an example. Yes, there are generalist fundraisers, but most people gravitate to the sub-specialty that’s comfortable for them, like direct mail, planned giving (wills and trusts) or major gifts (personal solicitation for significant gifts).

Get started finding that Nonprofit Career!

Successful transition from business or the government sector to a nonprofit job won’t always be smooth. We didn’t talk about pay (sometimes lower, but not always), cultural differences (which can be frustrating) and building a network that will lead to an offer.

For these and other job hunting skills, check out a great networking/job transition organization, like Great Careers/BENG, and its Nonprofit Career Network. Its a great way to meet others, create collateral like resumes and bios, and explore your options.

Good luck!

Matt Hugg Online Nonprofit Courses

Matt Hugg, President and Founder, Nonprofit.Courses

(One more thing! Make sure you sign up for New Course Alerts so you get notice of current content on Nonprofit.Courses to move your career ahead.)