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The Covid pandemic has forced many active volunteers into furloughs. It has put vital in-person training on hold. It has stalled volunteer-rich projects. It has created a giant periphery of volunteers who revolve around organizations like Pluto orbits the sun, not knowing if it’s a planet or a dwarf planet.

Unlike HR folks, who contend with active staff, volunteer managers are tethered to every volunteer, whether they are actively volunteering or they’re rotating in the periphery. This includes:

  • potential volunteers
  • retired volunteers
  • volunteers on leave
  • sick or injured volunteers
  • episodic volunteers
  • volunteers awaiting training
  • volunteers awaiting placement
  • student volunteers
  • community service volunteers
  • corporate volunteers

Often, our volunteer periphery exceeds active volunteers. How do we juggle this giant system? And for those naysayers who tell you, “just purge the roster,” that’s not acceptable. Every volunteer has value. Soooooo, what do we do?

Organize those pesky lists

Create categorized email lists: Categorize prospective volunteers, group and corporate volunteers, temporarily inactive volunteers etc. Send targeted messages to each group, such as upcoming training sessions, newsletters, notices about volunteer events or vacancies, etc.

If a volunteer fits onto more than one list, make sure not to count them twice. Slot them into their primary category and color code or asterisk them on other lists. Send general information to all categories, because recurring communication keeps them engaged.

Get help

Recruit volunteers to oversee the periphery: Lists are only helpful if they are accurate. It’s humbling when you take a call telling you that volunteer Dave died a year ago and his family keeps getting mail addressed to him.

A volunteer or volunteers in charge of overseeing other volunteers on the periphery can keep lists up to date. Volunteers can also make phone calls, conduct interviews, do impromptu surveys, offer new opportunities, gather information and compile statistics. The scope of the potential work can fill a full-time volunteer position or several part-time positions. Besides, a personal check-in from a fellow volunteer creates the team feeling.

For the love of all that is sane, show your work

Report your time spent managing peripheral volunteers: Don’t let this be one of the duties we shrug about and mutter, “yeah, it comes with the territory.” Managing the periphery requires your expert time, so report it as part of your volunteer recruitment, retention, and cultivation.

Capture stats from your efforts to engage “prospective volunteers, retain episodic volunteers, build community awareness, increase visibility, maintain relationships, create partnerships, cultivate donors, supporters, etc. This nuanced area of our work is critical, time consuming, and we must account for it.

Peripheral volunteers have value

Volunteers who are not actively working still:

  • share experiences with friends, family, neighbors, clubs, co-workers etc.
  • continue to advocate for our work
  • provide us with community resources
  • share the pulse of the community with us

A volunteer team is fluid. Savvy volunteer managers know that volunteers on the periphery are valuable assets.

It’s time our organizations realized peripheral volunteers’ worth. It’s time organizations thought about how to engage peripheral volunteers. Oh, wait, there’s someone in the organization already doing just that:

The leader of volunteers.


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