There is no doubt that without a volunteer force, local, nationwide and worldwide charitable groups wouldn’t be able to do most of their good work. Volunteers are priceless and it would be hard to imagine a world without them! If you’re running a fundraiser, or leading a group of volunteers, what can you do to make sure your volunteers remain by your side through good and bad times?
To keep your volunteers, find out why they work for you:
- What motivates your volunteers to work for your group?
- Do they strongly believe in your cause? Do they appreciate their work environment?
- Even if you have student volunteers who are ‘only’ collecting volunteer hours for their college application, they probably chose your group for reasons other than just convenience or opportunity.
Know your different volunteer types if you want to know how to entice them to stick with you:
Also, do you know who your volunteers are? What are their interest and priorities and what other obligations do they have? Your volunteers may be working for more than one group, have family to take care off, have a paying job, go to college etc. In other words, they have plenty of other tasks besides their volunteer work and it’s your job to take that into consideration:
– Non-profit supermoms and dads: may be volunteering not just for your group, but other groups as well and are always on the lookout to help. Have super high energy and may be well versed in social media practices and may direct people to other causes they like. If you have a volunteer like this, resist trying to limit them! Even if you can’t have them all to yourself, make it clear that you appreciate their work and support them.
– Friends and family members of the founder of a non-profit will usually work because they truly believe in the cause, but they may also feel obligated. It’s important to keep in mind, that a volunteer who is very motivated to help, may burn out faster, even if he or she has a personal connection to the charity. And people who feel like they’re obligated to help may not perform very well, unless they have work they really like and feel comfortable with.
– If you have professionals (accountant, bookkeeper) donating their services, be sure to deal with them in a professional manner and keep track of their services for future reference and also to possibly put a dollar value on it for any accounting purposes. Check in with them periodically to see if they need any kind of information, so they don’t have to spend time chasing after your last year’s tax return for example. They may be motivated to help out because they really believe in your work, or they help out a different group every year, and they will appreciate any perks you offer, such as free advertising in your newsletter perhaps.
– Retiree volunteers are often volunteering not just to give back to the community, but to get out of the house and be with others. The social aspect of their volunteer job is very important and should be taken seriously. Some retirees may have had to take early retirement, but aren’t really ready for a life of leisure. They like to be able to apply their skills and prefer a mental challenge to casual work. In any case, often retirees are looking for that balance in their lives through volunteer work and if a group is able to provide that, will not only attract highly skilled workers, but also retain them for years to come.
– Volunteers who don’t seem to be very committed: It may be as simple as switching their jobs, or having a little chat with them about how you can make it more attractive for them to volunteer. Maybe you need to backtrack by finding out what brought them to your group to begin with. Or maybe a volunteer is overworked and needs a break or do a different job.
– Student volunteers and out-of-work volunteers: If you have volunteers who are out of work or in school, consider starting a program that details and advertises specific skills a volunteer will learn within a given time frame. This may allow you to attract and hold more volunteers for a specific time frame. Learning goals will depend on what you can easily offer to others without much extra effort. Examples could be marketing, social media, email campaigns, bookkeeping etc. Put the skills that a volunteer will learn in writing and use this list or description as a tool to attract and recruit volunteers.
Start with a small, simple program that includes maybe just one goal that you can easily fulfill and then build on that. A program like this gives volunteers the opportunity to add real skills to their resume while they’re looking or preparing for a paying job. A nice side benefit of such a program will be that your group will become even more organized!
– Volunteers by default, e.g. parents: if you have volunteer parents for a sports team for example, you may have to deal with many different and sometimes clashing opinions on a regular basis. Emotions run high, especially when an important win is at stake. You may actually receive more help than you need or want at times, but in order to keep things running smoothly, firm ground rules need to be set at the beginning of each season that detail the responsibilities of each person, who is in charge, and possibly rules for voting on certain issues.
Handing everyone a written ‘contract’ at the beginning of each season will keep your group running more smoothly and with less friction. Also, work out a plan with your volunteers on how to deal with the aftermath of team losses when people tend to blame each other, and never miss out on celebrating a win!
– If volunteers are beneficiaries of your services: volunteer job descriptions are always a good idea, but especially when you have beneficiaries as volunteers, so everyone knows exactly what’s expected of them. Some beneficiaries may believe it’s never enough what they give back to your group, some may feel they are overworked. A well written and concise volunteer job description will ease tensions about expectations.
Unpaid but priceless:
Even though volunteers aren’t paid, they need to be appreciated in other ways. Every group can afford a simple thank you in person, in the form of a note, or in public at an appreciation event. Thank you letters aren’t just for donors! Express your gratitude to your volunteers as well. Not only do they save you money by performing the many tasks they do for you for free, but they also root for your group and take pride in their work. In any case, take the time to communicate with each of your volunteers to ensure that they feel appreciated. Even if you think a volunteer isn’t doing that great a job, a sincere thanks is in order. They didn’t have to come volunteer for you but chose to give their precious time for your cause.
Give credit to your volunteers:
When giving credit to your volunteers, check twice to be sure that you’re giving the right credit and the appropriate amount of credit to the correct person. Check with a group leader and the volunteer to make sure everything is accurate before publication. If the volunteer is a minor be sure to receive permission from the parents before publishing any information.
You can’t put a price on the time and passion volunteers put into your project. Especially when economic times are tough it may be a challenge to hold on to your volunteer force, because some volunteers may have to get regular paying jobs or spend their time helping out family. But if you can provide an environment that’s not only task-oriented, but also provides real community and room for growth, you’re more likely to hold on to your volunteers through good times and bad.