Don’t Say These 4 Things to an Angry Volunteer (and What You Should Say Instead)

Guest post by Marla Benson

Volunteers are often the eyes and ears of an organization—by giving time and expertise, they are personally invested—and their feedback is critical to our growth. Sometimes, that feedback may come in a form that is more emotionally charged than a volunteer program administrator would prefer. As a matter of fact, at times, that energy may look and feel like a personal dispute or be infused with anger.

When we listen carefully, the actual context of the volunteer’s message may be similar to what any customer might provide to an organization in the form of customer feedback. What every customer deserves when sharing feedback, is that they are met in a manner that is:

  • Safe: responses do not mirror any negative emotions.
  • Non-judgmental: listening openly without imposing personal bias.
  • Empathetic: putting ourselves in the other person’s ‘shoes’ to best understand the issue(s) at hand.

Here are some tips to support you in providing your volunteer with safe, non-judgmental and empathetic responses, while not (unintentionally) upsetting your volunteer further.

  1. Don’t Smile at an Angry Volunteer

Why you may want to:

We think that a smile will lighten the mood or show friendliness or openness.

Why it doesn’t work:

A smile to an angry volunteer sends a message that you may be condescending toward their issue or not take them seriously. A smile may come across as an attempt to sway them from being angry, but keep in mind that they may have a right to be angry—and for some, it’s how they’re used to getting their issue across.

What to do instead:

Your body language and vocal tone should be neutral, yet present, to encourage the person to continue until they feel heard and can move on to exploring solutions.

Use these body language, listening, and helpful tone techniques instead:

  • Eye contact (easy does it … not too intense, just be present).
  • Neutral face — not happy, nor sad.
  • Head nods (show that you’re listening by acknowledging what they’re saying).
  • Face the person directly (don’t turn away like you’re ready to run out of the room).
  • Open, unclenched body—no crossed arms, no clenched fists.
  • Use a quieter-than-normal vocal volume than you would during an average conversation.
  1. Don’t Tell an Angry Volunteer How They Feel

Why you may want to:

We think we are being empathetic when we use phrases like:

‘I can see that you are really angry…’

‘You are (unhappy, furious, upset, crushed) because…’

Why it doesn’t work:

It’s not unusual for an angry volunteer to experience an array of emotions. When you try to tag someone else’s emotions with words like unhappy, angry or upset, that can simply inflame the person further. Their reaction may be to deny the words you are using. Now, you have diverted the conversation into an argument.

What to do instead:

Use empathetic, neutral phrases to indicate that you are listening and doing your best to relate. These can be used without causing a negative reaction because you are not attempting to define the volunteer’s exact emotions. (Truth: they may not even know what they are feeling, so just be supportive and let their story flow).

‘I can appreciate that you appear to have strong feelings about this’.

‘I can hear the intensity in your voice’.

‘I can appreciate that you feel passionate about this…’.

  1. Don’t Push Your Solutions

Why you may want to:

We think we are providing enlightened, personal wisdom when we use phrases like:

‘Well, what you should do is…’

‘That’s an easy fix, all you have to say is…’

‘When that happened to me, I…’

Why it doesn’t work:

To provide an angry person with your solution may lead to a solution that doesn’t stick (because they are not in the right frame of mind to hear it), or that they now want to argue with you about.

What to do instead:

You’ll want to lead the person towards their own solutions by using gentle, supportive questions.

‘What do you think your options are?’

‘If you were advising someone else in your situation, what would you tell them?’

‘Are you asking for my advice?’

  1. Don’t Hijack the Conversation

Why you may want to:

We think we are being sympathetic when we tell our stories.

‘Your situation is just like the time when I was…’

‘I know exactly what that’s like, when I…’

‘You’re so lucky, when that happened to me…’

Why it’s doesn’t work:

When you attempt to sympathize by starting to share a story of your own, you can see the volunteer take a deep breath and sigh with the realization that they aren’t going to be able to complete their story. You’ve now hijacked the conversation to being about you.

What to do instead:

Use good listening questions:

‘Tell me more about how…’

‘When that happened, what did you do next?’

For the most part, your role with the angry volunteer isn’t to say much at all, but to encourage him/her to discuss the details of their issue. It’s the only way for them to express the information of the situation, and clearing a path that will allow solutions to come to fruition.

With your empathetic and supportive listening skills, the once-angry volunteer now feels heard and will be more open to exploring mutually beneficial solutions that are best for the volunteer, the organization and YOU!


Author Bio: Marla Benson, Founder of the Volunteer Conflict Management System℠, Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and Certified Mediator created the Volunteer Conflict Management System℠ out of sheer necessity (and a smidgen of desperation) while serving as an Executive with Girl Scouts and supporting tens of thousands of girls and volunteers. Her proactive, clear and final system addresses every kind of adult volunteer conflict scenario. Join the conversation with Marla at

How to Impress Your Volunteers With a Video Training (and Get the Job Done)

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

How to Impress Your Volunteers with a Video Training (6-8-16)This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

When a video complements a live orientation, the results are powerful.

I had dinner with my friend Gena the other night. What’s great about Gena is that she has managed volunteers – she knows all about the potential of volunteers to expand an organization’s mission and effect real change — and she does a lot of volunteering herself. So when she praised her recent experience as part of a volunteer group with DC Central Kitchen, I listened.

One of the things that impressed Gena the most was the video that her group watched before they jumped into their kitchen duties. She thought the video did a great job of training them for their volunteer role in the kitchen while introducing them to all of the great programs that the Kitchen offers.

That got me curious. Video training is an idea that gets tossed around a lot. A well-produced video has the potential to save time for busy volunteer managers, especially those who run large or understaffed programs.

But there is a downside to shifting things to video that experienced volunteer engagement pros know all too well: when we take ourselves out of the equation, we lose an opportunity to get to know our volunteers better and strengthen ties with the program.

So how does a program offer a video training and retain the relationship-building?

That short answer is: don’t expect your video to do all the heavy lifting. At DC Central Kitchen at least, that’s not the goal.

How to Impress Your Volunteers with a Video Training

Jessica Towers makes the video training experience more meaningful by sharing her story as volunteer, client, and now volunteer coordinator.

I know this because I went right to the source and spoke with the nonprofit’s Volunteer Program Coordinator, Jessica Towers. Jessica had lots of great info to share.

For one thing, the video is considered a complement and not a substitute for live training. Jessica greets every group of kitchen volunteers. She welcomes them, walks them through their role, and then shares her own experience at DC Central Kitchen Then, she shows the video.

The video does three very important things.

  1. Before covering any training, the video educates the volunteers about ALL the programs of DC Central Kitchen and explains why their model is so effective in reducing hunger.
  2. Then, the video walks the volunteers through important safety information, demonstrating tips and techniques in the very same kitchen where the volunteers will work, and using a lot of humor to underscore the message.
  3. Finally, the video leaves the volunteers with the sense that the program has high standards for their work and values their contributions.

Ultimately, it may be Jessica’s own story that connects what’s seen in the video with the volunteers’ experience in the kitchen. That’s because Jessica began as a volunteer herself – a court-ordered volunteer in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Jessica had so many community service hours to fill that DC Central Kitchen was one of the few places that could accommodate her mandate.

Through her time as a volunteer, Jessica came to see the resources of DC Central Kitchen as opportunities that might improve her life. She enrolled in the culinary training program, earned her food manager’s license and joined the staff about 8 months later.

For Jessica, volunteering is about more than spending a few hours making a difference – it’s about opening people up to a new, more powerful point of view. “My goal is to change people’s minds about hunger and homelessness,” says Jessica. “We’re using food as a tool to empower people’s lives.”


Twenty Hats is authored by Elisa Kosarin, CVA, a nonprofit professional with 15+ years of experience in nonprofit marketing, development, and volunteer management. She founded the site to help volunteer managers master the skills they need to make their jobs easier.

Knowing Generational Differences Can Help Engage Your Volunteers

Guest post by Steve Page

Volunteers are one of the best ways to grow your organization year after year. Once you have identified roles your volunteers will be assigned, the key to a successful volunteer experience is keeping your volunteer network engaged.

What’s the best way to do that?

Create a strategic plan for your volunteer program. Though it will take some time, dedicating a few hours to figuring how volunteers can best serve your organization is absolutely necessary for its success.

Reaching and Recruiting Volunteers

The most underutilized way to recruit volunteers is through word of mouth. Supporters of your cause, whether or not they have previously volunteered with your organization, should be able to serve as brand ambassadors, talking about the great work you’re doing and the impact that you’re having.

Positive word of mouth is the best way to inspire others who want to get involved and give back. Remember, a really good volunteer experience goes a long way. If people have a positive or negative experience with you, they are going to talk about it in person and online.

Encourage volunteers and supporters to share your message, volunteer program information, photos and videos through channels that reach and target every demographic. The more supporters you have, the larger the network your organization will reach.

Check out this useful generational giving infographic showing how the four key demographic segments in the US give, as well as how to effectively engage each through the channels they prefer.

MillennialsMillennials (born 1980-1995)

Millennials are perpetually connected to their mobile devices, making mobile the most effective channel for this demographic to engage, volunteer and donate.

Millennials are turning out to a be a charitable bunch and are mostly motivated by passion for a cause, not just the organization itself.

85% of millennials give to charity, but you have to approach them differently than other demographics. The same holds true for volunteering.

The millennial impact benchmarks report suggests that nonprofits take a “mobile first” approach to engage with millennials. This means target them where they spend their time: on their mobile phones, via text message and on social media.

A great way to do this is by sending text messages and posting volunteer requests across social media. Encourage potential millennial volunteers to make an event out of their volunteer experience by inviting friends, taking pictures and sharing their experience across social channels.

Gen XGen X (born 1965-1979)

Generation X’ers can still be reached through email, but they are more likely to regularly check social media or text messages than the generation before.

According to a Pew Research Center study on smartphone ownership, 80% of adults between the ages 30-49 own a smartphone — the second largest generational group to do so — and 59% give to charity.

Gen X’ers also volunteer more than any other generation. In fact 30% of Gen X’ers volunteer their time to nonprofits, so encouraging them to volunteer with your organization will likely be easier than other generations. This is a huge opportunity for nonprofits because volunteers are almost twice as likely to donate to charity than non-volunteers.

Baby BoomersBaby Boomers (born 1946-1964)

Baby boomers regularly answer voice calls and check email, however, in recent years, they have also adopted mobile and social media technology at a rapid rate. On average, baby boomers spend 19 hours a week online and 71% use a social networking site daily. These numbers are likely to continue growing year after year.

Baby boomers are the most generous of all generations, giving an annual average of $1,212 per person across 4.5 organizations. Recurring giving is the norm for a lot of baby boomers, who make up 21% of all monthly donors.

Baby boomers are likely to do volunteer work for organizations they are actively involved with. Consider asking baby boomers to volunteer at events or fundraisers they may already be interested in attending.

Greatest GenerationGreatest Generation (born before 1945)

The Greatest Generation are engaged through a friendly phone call or letter in the mailbox. It is difficult to reach this group via text messages and social media but some are starting to use email.

Don’t count them out for all online activity! A 2013 Pew Research Center Study found that 70% of adults 65 and older use the internet on a daily basis.

88% of this generation give to charity: the highest annual average donations amount per person compared to other demographics. So if you are looking to ask for donations or recruit volunteers for your organization, be sure to experiment with online outreach as well using the traditional methods like a phone call or direct mail.

They’re also happy participating in the volunteer opportunities your organization has to offer. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, more than one in four older adults volunteers each year.

Your organization should be communicating and marketing across the appropriate online and offline channels to engage each and every generation of supporters. Using a segmented approach to supporter communication is the best way to create an effective experience for both recruiting and engaging volunteers.

Now that you know how to engage all generations using the appropriate marketing channels, you’ll be able to amplify both your volunteer programs and fundraising ideas.


Author bio: Steve Page is a blogger, marketer, and webmaster for MobileCause, the world’s leading mobile and online fundraising platform. MobileCause helps organizations reach their goals with a full suite of mobile-friendly solutions that allow donors to connect and give to your cause from any device. When he’s not working at MobileCause, Steve can usually be found helping organizations with their websites, learning the latest marketing trends or working on his golf game.

How to Boost Your Local Volunteers’ Motivation

Guest post by David Grover

teamworkThe ability to motivate local volunteers is a vital but challenging task. Volunteer organizations are notoriously fluid, people come and go, and very often, those who are very enthusiastic at the start lose steam as time passes.

Here are 6 useful tips on successfully motivating local volunteers.

Tip 1: Acknowledge and praise

Acknowledgement and praise are keystones of volunteer motivation. Volunteers get paid in acknowledgement, not money. Even paid workers are motivated by more than just money, according to behavioral economist Dan Ariely. When people are not paid for their work, “abstract” rewards become ever more important, so make sure you create an environment that fosters them. For example, never pass up an opportunity to put a figurative gold star on the forehead of a volunteer.

Tip 2: Create a happy environment filled with fun

“Happiness research”, which has become all the rage in the past few years, indicates that happy people are more productive. And good social relationships improve people’s happiness. Encourage teamwork amongst volunteers, create community, and host frequent “get-to-know-you” activities. Play games together, eat together, and most importantly, have fun. Leaders of charitable organizations very often get caught up in the overwhelming needs of those whom they have to help. Take some distance and connect in fun ways with the volunteers who help you.

Tip 3: Match individual volunteers’ strengths to your needs

Don’t give the child care job to someone in IT who’s socially reticent and not particularly fond of children, and don’t give the computer network backup job to someone who’s technophobic yet loves children. This example is extreme, of course, but it illustrates the importance of getting to know your volunteers well enough to establish their passions and interests as soon as they join.

Tip 4: Provide training

Sometimes you are not going to get the IT volunteer you need, or the shy person who loves babies may not know how to change diapers. Where necessary, provide training to volunteers. If the required skills are not available in your organization, identify and approach knowledgeable members of the community to provide one-off training to members of your volunteer corps. Learning new skills will motivate most people to engage with an activity or your organization.

Tip 5: Give feedback

Have regular feedback sessions where you share the successes of the organization with your volunteers. Encourage people who have benefited from the organization’s work to share their stories first-hand. Create colourful PowerPoint or Prezi presentations in which you detail the number of meals served, or the number of terminal patients cared for, or the number of adults who’ve been taught to read. Also share future plans with volunteers so that they become aware of the strategic goals of your organization.

Tip 6: Be flexible

Understand that volunteers are not full-time employees. A sure-fire way to chase them away and demotivate them is to treat them as such. Adapt to the schedules of your volunteers; try to allow them to volunteer at times that are convenient for them and accommodate their lives. Explain the tasks that need to be done and allow them to indicate when they will be available.

In conclusion, volunteering is a two-way street. Volunteers give of their time and efforts to others; however, they also get something back: meaningful engagement with others, a sense of worth and worthiness, new challenges, personal development, skills training and a sense of community. An organization that manages to serve the community and serve its volunteers at the same time will be a successful one.


About the author:
David Grover is a Communications Manager at Timeo, a useful tool for business in the UK. He’s also a freelance career coach, who’s always eager to share his experience. In his free time David enjoys traveling.

Aligning Volunteer Engagement to the Vision, Mission, and Strategic Plan of Your Organization

Guest post by Michael Fliess

Measuring the Impact of VolunteersMany leaders of volunteers agree that when volunteers are fully engaged, both the organization and the clients or cause they represent benefit.

Being “fully engaged” can mean different things to volunteers. However, in a 2013 recognition study conducted by Volunteer Canada, volunteers rated “wanting to know how their work has made an impact” as the most important way they could be recognized for their contribution.

How do leaders of volunteers ensure volunteers know their work has made a difference? As explained in the book, Measuring the Impact of Volunteers, co-authored by me, Christine Burych, Alison Caird, Joanne Fine Schwebel, and Heather Hardie, an important strategy to begin with is aligning volunteer roles with the vision, mission and strategic plan of the organization. When volunteers know their work is integral to the mission, they are more apt to feel truly part of the team, which builds a stronger commitment to your organization.

Six important steps to creating alignment include:

  1. Review the vision, mission, and strategic plan of your organization

Familiarize yourself with your organization’s strategic plan, mission, and vision to have a clear understanding of the goals and objectives. This will ensure that volunteers are integrated with that effort and not working at cross-purposes.

  1. Identify ways in which volunteer involvement supports your strategic plan

Start assessing whether volunteer contributions support your strategic plan by articulating all the volunteer work currently performed. You can apply a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) of volunteer engagement to the directives of the organization. What work helps support immediate goals or long-term vision? Are there tasks that don’t fit into your organization’s plan?

  1. Identify where you may have gaps in programming/ service

Often, the best ideas for improvement come from the end-users of a product or service. This can include staff, clients, families of clients, and volunteers. They will often see needs that are not being met. From this input, identify ways the right volunteer or volunteer initiatives might help.

  1. Create volunteer positions that fully align with the needs of programs, clients and the core services of the organization

The identification of gaps, weaknesses, and even strengths that could be expanded is where you will find ideas for new and high impact volunteer roles. Be sure to review any changes or new volunteer roles with the end-users of that role. For example, you may see a perfect opportunity for volunteers, but ensure that the team/ program with whom you would place new volunteers agree.

  1. Ask staff, clients and stakeholders to evaluate volunteer engagement

Don’t be afraid to receive and even facilitate feedback about volunteer efforts. This can be done through several different tools such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Ensure that you model an atmosphere of openness, where feedback and suggestions are welcomed as an opportunity for improvements.

  1. Measure and report on the impact of what volunteers do

Finally, demonstrate the impact of volunteer engagement. Show volunteers, staff, and organization leaders which accomplishments directly support the goals of the organization.

These six steps will ensure that volunteers are recruited and placed in truly strategic ways. Beginning with a focus on alignment with your organization’s vision sets the stage for leaders of volunteers to support the successful engagement of volunteers.

Michael Fliess, author of Measuring the Impact of Volunteers: A Balanced and Strategic ApproachAbout the author:
Michael Fliess has worked in the field of volunteer management for over 18 years with a focus in the non-profit/healthcare sector. He has served in leadership roles with the Professional Association of Volunteer Leaders – Ontario (PAVRO), as a director at large, co-chair of the PAVR-O Mentor Program and Survey Lead for the Standardized Volunteer Opinion Survey. Michael is a co-author and project lead for Measuring the Impact of Volunteers: A Balanced and Strategic Approach, by Christine Burych, Alison Caird, Joanne Fine Schwebel, Michael Fliess, and Heather Hardie (© 2016, Energize, Inc.)