Is a fractional volunteer coordinator right for your organization?

Part-time volunteer leaders

The term “fractional volunteer coordinator” is one that most people are unfamiliar with.

Briefly, fractional volunteer coordinators are highly qualified, experienced professionals who come in, part-time, on a contract basis for organizations that may not have the resources – or the need – to have a full-time leader of volunteers in-house.

The time they don’t spend with you, they may spend doing the same thing for one or more other organizations. Thus, the word “fractional”.

The idea of fractional leadership isn’t new. Small and mid-sized companies have been using fractional chief financial officers or chief marketing officers, etc. for decades. This simply moves the concept out of the “C-suite”.

Fractional volunteer coordinators bring the sort of dedication, knowledge and experience that are usually out of reach for smaller social impact organizations.

Understand, however, although the position is contracted, the coordinator isn’t just a consultant. He or she actually do the work of managing your volunteers.

There are significant benefits to your organization in having fractional volunteer coordinators.

The main four are:

1. They bring a significant amount of knowledge and experience with them; more than most organizations would otherwise be able to afford.

2. They are there only for the amount of time you need them, so you aren’t scrambling to find work for them during quiet periods.

3. Being a contract position, you have more flexibility and control. Not only do you choose the number of hours they work, but those can be changed according to operational need and the position can be terminated much more easily and more amicably than with an employee. There is also no long-term commitment.

4. It is less expensive. Although you will be paying more per hour than you might with an employee, you are not responsible for filling their entire time, for their benefits, employment insurance, vacation pay, etc., not to mention you will be spending less time on paperwork. Easier, cheaper and you get top quality service to further your organization’s mission.

If this is the first time you’ve heard of a fractional volunteer coordinator, how would you know if you need one? Here are indicators that this option is right for your organization.

• You’re facing budgetary constraints or uncertainty—Tight budgets and financial uncertainty are a relatively normal part of business for social impact organizations. This is especially true for new, growing and specialty agencies. Financial resources to hire a full-time leader of volunteers are often unavailable. This means having the executive director or some other staff member manage the volunteers as and when they can. Besides taking time away from their own duties, this can cause inconsistencies in the program which might impact your mission and/or clients.

• Your volunteer program needs high-level guidance—A strategic benefit comes from having an experienced person in this position. Oftentimes, especially in small and growing organizations, volunteer programs lack a cohesive plan. This is common when the program is steered by multiple people or by someone who is either not trained or not solely dedicated to the volunteers.

This is not a knock on the person(s) running your program now, just a reason to bring on someone with education and experience in this particular field. If you believe your volunteers are important to achieving your mission, you owe it to your organization to hire someone who specializes in managing them well.

• You’ve been wanting more organizational and financial flexibility—Running a social impact organization takes an incredible amount of agility. You need to pivot and change continually in order to deal with altered funding or unforeseen opportunities or challenges. Locking your organization into a yearly salary commitment for a leader of volunteers can be hard. Hiring an on-demand fractional volunteer coordinator allows you to use your resources where and when you need them most.

Do you have a seasonal component to your charity (such as the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign) or a big event coming up that requires an influx of temporary volunteers? You can give more or fewer hours to a fractional volunteer coordinator to match your needs. It is a very flexible situation. During times you don’t need a volunteer coordinator, you can divert those resources into other areas.

• You need more decision-making freedom—If hiring a full-time staff member is challenging, so is firing one. If the relationship doesn’t work out, separating from them can be an uncomfortable and acrimonious process.

On the other hand, if a fractional volunteer coordinator isn’t working out, it is much easier to just terminate the contract and move on to someone else.

The same is true as your organization grows and your needs shift. You may decide you need a full-time leader. With a fractional volunteer coordinator, that process is easy and painless. In fact, the fractional volunteer coordinator will usually be happy to help train and settle your new hire into the position.

Is this for you? Maybe, maybe not.

Every social impact organization is different. A fractional volunteer coordinator may or may not suit your needs. Knowing that they exist, however, at least allows you to consider your options.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Volunteer Matters articles

About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories