Great question. After all, according to some of the myths of the field, volunteers can manage themselves, right? So doesn't that just make volunteer management professionals a sort of unnecessary middleman?
Actually, no. For as soon as your organization has decided to involve volunteers (here are some tips to make sure your organization is ready), there are a number of things that need to happen: finding volunteers, matching their skills and interests to the needs of the organization, supervision and recognition, etc. Without a volunteer management professional on staff – whether they be paid or volunteers themselves – volunteers often fall between the cracks of already busy organizations and are left to fend for themselves or forgotten altogether. In either case, the end result is a volunteer who doesn't feel valued or engaged. And that is a volunteer who will leave, taking with them the energy and time they could have contributed to the mission as well as, potentially, ill will towards the organization for how they were treated (think of it as negative PR).
But don't take our word for it. Consider research on the matter. A 1998 study conducted by the UPS Foundation found that two out of five volunteers stopped giving time to an organization due to poor volunteer management practices. More recently, The Urban Institute found in 2004 that while four out of five charitable organizations use volunteers (with 90% ready to take on more volunteers), only three in five had a paid volunteer management professional on staff. And of those with a staff volunteer management professional, half spent less than 30% of their time on volunteer management.
Perhaps even more striking was the finding that the percentage of time a paid staff member devoted to volunteer management was positively related to the capacity of the organization to work with more volunteers. At the same time, researchers found that as time spent managing volunteers increased, adoption of volunteer management best practices also increased, leading to a situation where increased investment in volunteer management leveraged the benefits to the organization of involving volunteers, and vice versa.
So what does all this mean? It means volunteer management professionals are vital to the success of a volunteer program. That having a paid volunteer management professional on staff increases the capacity of the organization to involve volunteers. That having a volunteer management professional on staff leverages the impact volunteers have on the organization and its mission. The bottom line is that volunteer management isn't middle management. It's capacity building, relationship managing, public relations…you get the idea. However you frame it, it's important.