President's Perspective Blog

National Volunteer Week – More Than Just Thanks and Recognition

Leadership and Teams: Boards and Volunteers
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We are celebrating National Volunteer Week this week here in the U.S., and it’s being celebrated in Canada next week.

National Volunteer Week is a time to celebrate volunteers, recognize their impact and encourage volunteerism in our communities.

So, this is probably where you’re thinking, oh, okay, this is where Mike is going to thank all the AFP volunteer members and encourage me to thank my own volunteers. Gotcha. Good idea. I’ll get on it. Thanks, Mike, I’m outta here.

But please, don’t go yet. Because you’re only partially right.

I mean, yes, I AM going to thank all our members who volunteer their time for AFP on the national, regional and local chapter level. One of AFP’s most extraordinary strengths is our volunteers. It’s no stretch to say that AFP would not be where it is today without the input and the contributions of our volunteer members over the past 60-plus years.

So, thank you to everyone who has contributed their time to AFP—whether it’s at a conference, educational programming, a National Philanthropy Day event or any other aspect of the AFP community. All of us at AFP Global so much appreciate everything you’ve done for our profession and our community.

But the reason that volunteers are such a critical part of AFP is because of our culture. Volunteering is part of the foundation—the fabric—of the AFP community. And I think for some charities and organizations, that’s not the case.

Volunteers are more than just a resource or a tool to help us with special events, but too often they’re treated that way. Or perhaps our eyes light up when we think about the connection between volunteering and contributing, and we see volunteers as just another donor group to help us reach our goals. And I do agree that volunteers are important for both of those functions, absolutely.

But I think those are also very limiting ways of looking at volunteering and the impact volunteer can have on our organizations. Volunteers are a way we connect with the community. They can help us understand the challenges and opportunities that the people we interact with and serve have to face every day. They provide different perspectives when nonprofit staff is often enclosed in our siloed worlds with blinders on. Volunteering allows people to express themselves in different ways and makes them feel like they are part of a solution.

To me, all these aspects of volunteerism speak to having an organizational culture where volunteers are integral to our work. Of course, there are limits to what volunteers can do, and managing volunteers isn’t always easy—if it was, everyone would be doing it! But the benefits they bring to organizations—especially charities that serve the community—are immense.

Volunteerism is a core part of philanthropy and a core value for AFP and our work. Fundraisers should work on creating organizational cultures that value volunteerism and everything that volunteers bring to our causes.

Philanthropy doesn’t work without getting people engaged—through giving of time, talent or treasure. As we celebrate National Volunteer Week, let’s spend some time not only thanking and celebrating our volunteers—let’s think about how we can improve their experience, develop new opportunities for engagement and make them a critical piece of our organizational and philanthropic culture.

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Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA

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