Four Ways to Fail Your Volunteers

Guest post by Eli Raber 

Don't fail your volunteers.Volunteers are the backbone behind many organizations., for example, is made possible by business advisers who volunteer their time, insight, and experience to strengthen small businesses that create jobs in underserved communities.

Because volunteers are so important, it’s essential that your engagement and appreciation efforts don’t fall through the cracks. Read on to discover four management missteps that are easy to make, yet with a proactive approach, even easier to avoid.

Fail #1: Not Framing the Big Picture

While you may live your organization’s mission day in and day out, volunteers may need some education on your “big picture.” Just like you, your volunteers could benefit from a holistic perspective.

Break down the value of their work; how do their personal contributions add to the whole, and in what ways are their efforts creating impact? Framing things in a larger scope can up the commitment factor for volunteers, making their efforts more meaningful.

Fail #2: Setting Blurry Expectations

Just because volunteers are eager, willing, and…well, voluntary, doesn’t mean they should be thrown into situations without clear expectations and support. Commit to giving your volunteers the tools they need to succeed.

From an information sheet to a formal starter kit—standardize an onboarding process that best suits your volunteers. Also, take the time to teach your staff how best to train your volunteers; volunteers who do not feel supported by program staff may have a bad experience and might not come back.

Fail #3: Narrow Entry Points for Engagement

Don’t discount the different ways volunteers can lend a hand. For example, the most common way for’s volunteers to contribute is by mentoring a small businesses. But that’s not a convenient option for everyone who believes in our mission, so we offer multiple entry points for engagement. Hosting an online webinar, volunteering to table an event, and submitting a blog post are different yet important ways our volunteers contribute.

Empower your volunteers to think outside the box when deciding how to help. Also, consider organizing a volunteer committee that can give a voice to the group, and thus, creates a seamless way for your organization to stay connected to its volunteer base.

Fail #4: When Appreciation Stays Stagnant

We all know that we can’t take our volunteers for granted, but thanking them through the same old channel is another fail. Your appreciation should be as fresh and vibrant as your volunteers’ energy.

From t-shirts to coffee cups, consider swag for your volunteers. A Volunteer of the Year Award is an exciting way to show thanks, or (on a smaller scale), make social media shoutouts to outstanding contributors. Remember, individual attention can be more powerful than public recognition. When volunteers send you an email or answer a survey, make an effort to respond. Exemplify that you’re listening and prove how important they are.

Our program, like so many others, would not exist without volunteers. What are some other “fails” to avoid? Join the conversation via the share buttons below!

About the Author: Eli Raber is the Associate Director of, helping to connect entrepreneurs who create jobs for underserved communities with the valuable resources they need to run and grow their businesses successfully.