Restore Strategies | The Perfect Opportunity
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The Perfect Opportunity

What does it look like build the best opportunity possible?

Because of the enormous pressure on nonprofits to “perform,” leaders may feel the need to post volunteer opportunities as soon as possible to meet their own needs. While this desire is more than understandable, does this approach to finding volunteers really create long-term success?

Whether we understand it or not, every posted opportunity seeks to meet the needs of one or more of the stakeholders involved. These stakeholders include the agency/nonprofit, the client being served, and the volunteer himself/herself. While it may seem easy to cater to each of these groups, finding that “sweet spot” of perfect overlap between all three requires time, patience, and input from each of the actors involved.

The diagram from McCurley and Lynch’s Volunteer Management depicts the possible opportunity overlaps:

Volunteer Management, pg. 6 (McCurley & Lynch)

What kinds of activities fall into each of these buckets? In order to determine where your opportunities fall on the diagram, we must first understand what motivates each of these groups.

The Actors

The agency (i.e., nonprofit) often publish opportunities that fill a program need or take undesirable (but necessary) tasks off of the plates of paid staff members. The organization may also feel pressure from donors or other organizations to produce better results in particular areas, incentivizing the team to build opportunities around improving as many of those “mission critical” activities as possible.

The client certainly feels some of the same needs as the agency – if this isn’t the case, the agency needs to make sure its mission and programs are aligned with real community problems. However, even the most attuned nonprofit will only be able to meet a fraction of the needs clients feel. For example, a client at a homeless day shelter may also need health care to get back on his/her feet.

Volunteers can serve for many reasons,  but the most common typically include desires to meet the needs of vulnerable populations, derive a sense of purpose or meaning, share their faith, and show love and compassion to others. Individuals that decide to serve may feel disaffected or frustrated with opportunities in which these can’t take place.

The Overlaps

Volunteers in Overlap 4 have identified a client need, but the agency may not be interested or have the bandwidth to meet that particular need. For example, a client at a dental clinic may also be jobless. Because the dental clinic does not offer job training services, it may make the most sense to refer the volunteer to a trusted organization partner.

In Overlap 3, there may be a felt need that the organization is trying to meet, but the activity completed may be one that few local volunteers find personally rewarding or meaningful.

Opportunities in Overlap 2 are ones in which “the volunteer actually views the agency as a ‘client’” and helps the organization further its mission. Volunteers in this overlap may enter data, file papers, answer phones, or conduct research to help the nonprofit help others. These opportunities, however, do not help the client directly but only help the organization serve its clients better.

Overlap 1 is the ideal category for any opportunity. Not only do these opportunities provide volunteers with a sense of satisfaction by working with clients directly, but they help the organization complete its mission and meet a real need for the client. Mentoring, meal delivery, court advocacy, and respite care are just a few of the opportunities that fall squarely in this category.

Applying the Concepts

Is your organization caring for all three of these groups well? Walk through the steps below to find out!

-Step 1: Spend a few minutes articulating the needs of your agency, clients, and volunteers.

-Step 2: Write out all the opportunities your organization offers to volunteers.

-Step 3: Determine which groups they serve and how the opportunity meets each group’s needs.

-Step 4: If the opportunity is not in “Overlap 1,” identify at least one way the opportunity could be amended to better care for all three groups.

Garrett Clawson Profile
Do you want to make an even greater difference with your volunteers? Contact our nonprofit relations associate at  for a free consultation about your volunteer program!
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