Skilled Volunteers: Wes and Whitney

When we think of nonprofits, one of the first things that comes to mind is volunteers. Volunteers are the reason many nonprofits are able to do what they do. They support us in ways our budgets will not allow. They pass along our mission to their communities and encourage others to go out and do good. Volunteers are often the foundation of nonprofits. . . but how do we attract and retain them?

The Houston ToolBank is unique in that our mission is to empower volunteers! We lend tools out to other charitable organizations for little to no cost. Our goal is to equip volunteers all over the Greater Houston area with supplies to complete every project, no matter how big or how small.

When recruiting skilled volunteers – always start with Volunteer Houston!

But even WE need a team of volunteers to help us to carry out our own mission of supporting volunteers at other nonprofits. At the same time, some of our items require special knowledge for cleaning or repairing. Last year, it was my mission to find a few volunteers who were comfortable working on engines and who also enjoy coming to the ToolBank regularly.

We began in the way we always do – by posting the opportunity on the Volunteer Houston portal. This is truly a great resource for nonprofits because there are many volunteers who check there first before doing further research! And it acts like a job board where you can include descriptions and even keywords, so the right people find your posting.

Skilled Volunteers: Two examples, Wes & Whitney

At the beginning of the year, I met my first skilled volunteer, Wes. Wes did not come through a traditional posting. Rather, he contacted me about making a donation and I invited him to tour the warehouse. When we met, I learned that a few years prior he had come to the ToolBank and volunteered with a corporate group and he loved it. He was about to retire and was wondering if we needed any help. I gave him a tour and discussed different projects and areas that we were looking for regular help in. When I showed him the repair cage, the area where we keep our damaged tools, I knew I had just hit the jackpot. He was clearly so knowledgeable about many items and he was willing to learn about others.

It turns out 2020 was the year that the Houston ToolBank did spring cleaning for 10 months straight. We quickly realized we needed more hands-on deck for both day-to-day organizing and for more complex projects to build new storage options to streamline the warehouse. We had posted on Volunteer Houston looking for more warehouse help, and I could not believe it, but we hit the jackpot once again with Whitney. Little did I know I was meeting the real-life Wonder Woman. Whitney does it all, she came in and was ready to tackle anything.

Retaining Skilled Volunteers

One of the trickiest parts of managing volunteers is retention! This goes for skilled volunteers as well. For each volunteer, retention will look a little different… which is why I will share some of my own experiences.

  • Always get to know your volunteers, because not everyone wants to do the same thing. Figure out what they enjoy and provide them with those types of projects. After a few days of volunteering, I learned that Whitney was a very talented carpenter and that it was her true passion. I knew I needed some wood cutting help and that it would be the perfect job for her. She was thrilled to have the opportunity to help but also do something she loves. Let me tell you – she is so talented!
  • Keep them interested with specific projects. I think it is important that you always have projects available that are tailored to your skilled volunteer. If they are passionate about what they are doing they will come back. Volunteers are here because they want to help, not because they must – this is not a job where the paycheck is the motivation. With Whitney, this meant building various things around the warehouse including a custom trash grabber wall. This was a great solution for us, and something fun and challenging for her! (Include a picture here? Add a specific project for Wes?)
  • Stay involved and keep them involved. Make sure that you spend time working alongside your volunteers so that you can be sure they are enjoying their projects. In Wes’ case, our repair cage gives him a lot of items to fix but I always make sure to stay involved in whatever he is working on by dropping in now and then. And we work together often – for example when a huge truckload of hand sanitizer arrived, he was instrumental in helping to pallet jack loads to the back of the warehouse. Wes is still with us to this day, and I have been grateful for all his help especially throughout 2020.
  • Make sure they feel appreciated. I knew how valuable Wes and Whitney would be to our organization, so I wanted to make sure they felt appreciated as much as I could. I always try to stop by and just say thanks as often as I can. And we do regular gifts for our volunteers – like gift cards, social media posts (if they are comfortable) or handwritten notes.

Volunteering should be a pleasant experience and even if it is challenging, the volunteer should leave feeling happy with what they have done. Most of all, I cannot stress it enough – always say thank you. Volunteers do what they do because their hearts are big. Never take that for granted. If I did not have Wes and Whitney, the Houston ToolBank would not be in the shape it is in today. They are a valued part of our ToolBank family, and we are blessed to have a positive and long-term relationships with both.

About the Houston ToolBank

The Houston ToolBank is a nonprofit tool lending program that provides fellow not-for-profit organizations (and disaster volunteers) with year-round access to an inventory of tools for use in volunteer projects and facility and environmental maintenance. We provide tools to enhance the charitable sector’s capacity to serve, scale, and facilitate hands-on volunteerism in the greater Houston area. All other borrowing costs 3% of the tool’s cost per week.

Access to ToolBank tools eliminates the need for agencies to incur the expense of purchasing, insuring, repairing, and storing tools, reducing the costs associated with service projects and allowing these agencies to focus more of their resources on their mission.

Nancy Clippard is the Volunteer and Warehouse Manager at the Houston ToolBank. She serves on the Harris County Long-Term Recovery Committee Volunteer Management and the Houston Together event committee.

Nancy Clippard, Volunteer + Warehouse Manager, Houston ToolBank