Category Archives: Nonprofit

Volunteers: Treat them right!

If you work for a nonprofit or some other non-commercial project, chances are you need help.  I’m not talking about the kind of help where you lay on the couch and describe the imagery of your dreams. I’m talking about help from Volunteers, those beautiful people who give their time, energy, creativity and expertise to help make your vision happen.

But working with Volunteers can be tricky. These are people who give you the gift of their time, and it means something different to almost everyone. Volunteers also give their skill, their passion and their energy. That’s a lot.  So it’s important to be sure your project or organization is giving back to them as well.  Here are some tips:

Always ask your Volunteers what they are interested in doing – Usually folks have an idea of what they would like to do. To keep a Volunteer interested, they have to enjoy what they are doing.  Some people who have very stressful jobs, like to do mindless tasks. Others volunteer because they want a challenge. Find out what they really want to get out of the experience.

Volunteering is an opportunity for both of you – Give your Volunteers the opportunity to expand their skills and experience.  Many Volunteers are willing to be trained to do new things that help develop their skill set.  Find out what your Volunteers want to learn, and if you can, teach them how to do those things.

Don’t ask a volunteer to use the same skills that they use at work – Most volunteers offer to help for a change of pace. Nobody wants to feel like they are going to a second job when they volunteer. If  a Volunteer offers their regular work skills, great! If not, respect that. Your Volunteer will really appreciate it.

Be appreciative – Always thank your Volunteer for giving their time. Offer to acknowledge their work on your Thank You/Acknowledgment page of your website and/or newsletter. Offer to write a recommendation based on the work they do for you. Use Social Media to praise their contribution, but always ask first.  Some people like to volunteer on the down low.

Be respectful of time – This should go without saying. Do not make Volunteers wait for you. Have work lined up and ready to go. Also be realistic about how much can be done in the amount of time a Volunteer has to give.

Socialize – One great way to build cohesion with Volunteers is to give them a chance to socialize with staff and other Volunteers. Invite Volunteers to your organization’s social events or throw a party in their honor.






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Burning Question: Why Nonprofit?

Burning Man, the San Francisco based annual Art and Self Expression festival held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, is said to be going nonprofit. As an institution that promotes gift giving and decommodification, this is the greatest gift the Burning Man Organization (BMORG) can give it’s community, save free admission.

I’ve heard that San Francisco Bay Area has more nonprofit organizations per capita than anywhere except Washington DC. I tend to believe it’s true. Everyone here has a project of some sort, be it creative (art, music or performance). community based (neighborhood or social service) educational or religious. For a time, starting a nonprofit organization seemed to be the thing to do; not so much since the economic downturn.

By going nonprofit BMORG will cease to belong to founder Larry Harvey and his associates, and will in essence belong to the community at large. The company, in order to maintain nonprofit status, will be required to account for every penny spent.  They will also be eligible to receive grants from foundations and even the Federal Government via the National Endowment for the Arts, although the latter is somewhat doubtful, given the impression most people have of the festival.  Also, benefactors will be able to donate to the festival and receive a tax write-off for their donation. This does not mean however, that buying a ticket to the event will be considered a donation. That’s what is known as fee for service.

At a talk last week at the annual Regional Network Conference, Larry Harvey seemed relieved to say, “Its been interesting and fun learning how businesses run, but I’ll be happy, and won’t have to own anything else.” This seemed to be the biggest impetus of BMORG’s move to seek nonprofit status: disagreement on who owns Burning Man and how much the project is worth.

According to what Harvey said at the conference, BMORG will file papers for non-profit status in May. It’s an arduous process for any organization. But given the mentality of the project itself, and its pervasive culture of collaboration, I don’t believe the change will be that far of a stretch.




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