People Power: Maximize Your Volunteer Program for Greater Impact

Friday, January 20, 2017

Guest blog post from Rosie Drumgoole, Director, Ongoing Volunteer Programs, Chicago Cares

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, in 2015 a staggering 62.6 million Americans volunteered 7.8 billion hours of service worth $184 billion to their communities.  In Illinois, 2.4 million people volunteered 287 million hours of service worth $7.3 billion. Independent Sector estimates the value of an hour of volunteer service at $23. Think those numbers are impressive? You’re right! Volunteers are especially critical at this time of constrained resources and heightened uncertainty in the nonprofit sector.

Volunteers can be the lifeblood of an organization. Often, it’s only volunteers that can take an organization’s mission to full scale. Two people may not be able to fight hunger, but if those two people get their friends together, and they get their friends together, and you all start making sandwiches and sharing them with those in need, then you make a deeper impact. 

A well run volunteer program not only means that you have extra hands, but many studies show that volunteers are more likely to donate to an organization than non-volunteers. That’s because volunteers can be your most invested and loudest cheerleaders. Not only do volunteers invest sweat equity, they donate dollars as well. Those dollars can be invested back into an organization and its mission and help them to make a deeper impact.

Bearing all that in mind, why do organizations tend to ignore their volunteer program? Volunteer programs can be hard to start (or restart).  Often times, resource-strapped organizations don’t have the infrastructure in place to handle a volunteer program, so instead of making the necessary investment, they assign these duties to another staff member who probably already has too much on their plate or doesn’t have the skill set necessary to get the job done. When you don’t properly invest in your volunteer program, it can make it seem like it’s more of a hindrance than the immense help it can be.

Luckily enough, it doesn’t take much to develop an effective volunteer program. With a little bit of training and coaching, any organization can start a successful volunteer program. During Chicago Cares’ upcoming Volunteer Management Fundamentals series at Forefront, we will cover the basics of starting a successful and well-structured volunteer program.

Volunteer Management 101 on January 31 will cover:

  • Identifying Organizational Values
  • Designing the Volunteer Program
  • Reviewing the 3 Rs of Volunteer Management (Recruitment, Retention, Recognition)

By the end, volunteer managers who are new to the field should feel more confident about creating and maintaining their new volunteer programs.

But why is it important to have a well-run program?  Why can’t nonprofits just have people come and go as they please and help wherever, whenever it’s necessary? Well, the answer is simple. By volunteering, people are giving their most precious commodity: their time. No one wants to waste their time. No one wants to feel as though they weren’t needed, appreciated, or ended up doing things that they didn’t expect to do. By taking the time to figure out exactly what needs to be done and how you want it done, you can better prepare your volunteers to take on the task at hand. 

So now that you’re convinced that you need to better plan for your volunteer program, how do you convince others at your organization that you need a volunteer program? It’s not enough that one person believes that a volunteer program is necessary. You really need buy-in from everyone so that everyone respects the power and contribution of the volunteer. In Chicago Cares’ Volunteer Management 201 at Forefront on March 7, we take on that issue by addressing:

  • Change Management
  • Program Evaluation & Logic Models
  • Return on Volunteer Investment (ROVI)
  • Risk Management


By the end of both of these workshops, the new (and maybe not-so-new) volunteer manager should feel more comfortable starting or restarting their volunteer program and articulating the value to their colleagues. 

About the Author:  Rosie Drumgoole, a Certified Volunteer Administrator, leads the Ongoing Volunteer Programs department at Chicago Cares, which engages more than 10,000 volunteers annually at over 150 monthly service projects across the city.  Established in 1991, Chicago Cares mobilizes volunteers to build a stronger, more unified Chicago.  Visit to learn more.