Volunteers Are Rainbows: Capitalizing on Diversity

I am an Activate Good intern, writing the third post for a blog series about the five leadership challenges for nonprofits and how they relate to the wonderful word of volunteerism. For a quick recap, the five leadership challenges correspond with the core characteristics of the nonprofit sector (e.g., being mission based, accomplishing some social good, their tax exemption status) and affects almost all nonprofits no matter their size or their mission. We already visited a few of the other leadership challenges: aligning mission, methods, and resources and moving beyond charity to systematic change. Now it’s time to explore the fourth challenge, which is capitalizing on opportunities associated with diversity.

Sunday I was driving a friend back to Burlington from Raleigh on I-40. Nothing against the interstate or my friend, but I’ve made the trek on that interstate many times as a North Carolina native, and I get so bored with the seemingly endless row of green trees and the swarm of cars. On my way back to Raleigh, it started to rain (of course). When I got to Chapel Hill, the sun came out and a rainbow emerged. The opaque yet colorful picture in the sky added new scenery to this drive that had personally become so mundane.

What do my thoughts about I-40, trees, and rainbows have to do with nonprofits capitalizing on opportunities associated with diversity? Rainbows are vibrant because they are composed of different colors. Trees are essential to the environment and society, similar to how nonprofits are important structures in our civil society. Nonprofit organizations thrive when people from various backgrounds come together to make a difference, which includes volunteers who contribute their time and talents to charitable causes. Similar to how the rainbow on this past Sunday evening added to the scenery of the trees that engulfed the road, volunteers with new energy and fresh perspectives have the opportunity to bring color to existing nonprofit organizations.

Diversity is Diverse

What does “diversity” actually mean? When people think of diversity, race, gender, socioeconomic status, and age are often what come to mind. While those categories are aspects of diversity, diversity also encompasses individuals’ different skill sets. As mentioned in the last blog about aligning mission, methods, and resources, volunteers are a major labor source for nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits should take advantage of volunteers’ various backgrounds while they give back at their organization.

redeyelaptopSo what if nonprofits are diverse with their volunteers? Having volunteers with unique skills provide opportunities for the nonprofit to grow and expand. They are other eyes and ears for the nonprofit and can assist the organization with improving the quality and efficiency of services. A diverse set of volunteers, which also includes the board of directors, is one way for nonprofits to ensure that they are representative of the diversity of the individuals that they serve and the community at large. When a nonprofit is representative of diversity, this makes sure that the nonprofit is acting in accordance with the needs and desires of their constituencies. Furthermore, the definition of a volunteer is someone who uses their time and talents to give back to the community without monetary gain. They are free, people, so use them – especially if their skills fill a deficit that your nonprofit currently has!

An example of optimizing volunteers’ skills can be seen in a past Activate Good blog post by Abbie Cooke entitled “3 Steps to Turn your Volunteers into a Marketing Army.” Marketing and developing social media are important to get the word out and volunteers with the right skills can have the power to really kick butt with social media!

Got a unique skill or a hidden talent that you believe could help an awesome nonprofit in the Triangle? Well, today is your lucky day because you read the right blog! Check out the “Use Your Skills” tab on Activate Good’s website to find a volunteer opportunity that suits your skills.

Until my next blog post, shine like a rainbow and maybe you will find a pot of gold!

“Volunteers with new energy and fresh perspectives have the opportunity to bring color to existing nonprofit organizations.”