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.)

How to Engage the Right Volunteers for Your Organization

Guest post by Rebecca Jee

How to Engage the Right Volunteers for Your OrganizationA first year University student, a stay at home parent, and a 68-year-old retiree walk into your office.

No, it’s not the beginning of a bad joke. These are the people who could be your next volunteers. But which one of them will be the right volunteer for your organization?

As a volunteer manager, you have many job responsibilities, and likely limited time. So it’s important to engage the right people and get the most out of the volunteering experience both for you and the volunteer. If you can retain these key volunteers, it will mean you spend less time on training and recruiting, and more time working with them to achieve your important goals.

Get to know them

Although you might want to accept the offer of every person who is willing to get involved, taking some time to interview them — whether formally, informally, alone or in a group — will help you engage those who are the best fit for your organisation, and help flag any people who might be unsuitable before they get too far into the process.

Ask yourself things like:

  • What mix of skills do they bring to the table?
  • How much time do they have available?
  • Why do they want to volunteer for you?
  • Do their values align with your organization’s values?
  • What do they hope to get out of the experience?

Make sure you clearly spell out what the expectations are in terms of work, the culture of your organization, and the commitment you require from your volunteers so that everyone knows where they stand from the outset. You may require your volunteers to sign an agreement that sets out these expectations and standards; be sure to give your volunteers a copy of this to keep. Also, remember to inform your volunteers if they are required to undergo police checks or the necessary working with children checks for your area.

Engage them well

Every volunteering situation will be different. You might be recruiting someone to help out in the office, getting people working together on a project, or deploying individuals to engage with the community on your organization’s behalf.

You will learn fairly quickly who your most reliable and enthusiastic volunteers are. Depending on the type of work you have for them to do, you may be able to put your key volunteers in more of a leadership role within a team, or give them greater responsibility. These are the people you can train and trust to get the job done without as much management. They can also help you develop the skills of other volunteers who are less confident or capable.

Keep in touch

Encourage feedback and communication from your volunteers. You can gain valuable knowledge from them about their experience volunteering for you and how your organization is perceived by the community. They will also feel valued and part of your organization as a whole.

72% of people who volunteer only volunteer for one organization, so if you can effectively engage someone, it’s likely they will stay loyal. If the volunteering experience is a positive one, your volunteers will become your champions, and will return to volunteer again. Not only will they help you achieve your goals, they will promote your organization because they are passionate about what you do and their part in it.

So don’t just gather a group of random people with free time. Build an amazing team of the right volunteers and understanding their needs will help you achieve your organization’s goals.

About the author:

Rebecca Jee, Guest Author for Engaging Volunteers by VolunteerMatchRebecca Jee is a writer for Open Colleges, one of Australia’s leading online education providers. As a freelance writer, editor, graphic designer, photographer, musician, crafter, food consultant, massage therapist – you name it, she’s done it all. She loves a creative challenge and has a rock-solid background in working for not-for-profit organizations. She created a website and diary called Everyday Gratitude to encourage others to reflect on what they’re thankful for. Follow her company on Twitter, Google Plus, or Facebook.

Why You Should Collect Data from Volunteers

Guest post by Roslyn Tate

Reasons to collect volunteer dataPerformance management, or the process of improving organizational efficiency through setting goals, measuring progress and acting on insights, is so fundamentally ingrained in our modern idea of business that it hardly seems worth calling out. For certainty’s sake, though, let’s use a simplified example to illustrate the concept:

In reviewing the hourly sales records for consecutive weeks, the new owner of a fast food restaurant discovers that Saturday afternoon sales followed a sharp rise before plateauing. Typically not at the restaurant during those hours, the owner consults the shift manager who explains that, as little league season has returned and a baseball field is just across the street from the restaurant, there have been more customers than normal coming in on Saturday afternoons.

At first this was a welcomed boon, but the employees were soon overwhelmed, wait times grew longer and eventually customers started turning elsewhere. In order to capitalize on this opportunity, the owner assigns another employee to the Saturday afternoon shift and sets a reward for the entire team: each percentage point increase in sales will earn the employees a percent bonus. The owner awaits the sales records of the upcoming weeks, eager to see if his plan will bear fruit.

Simple idea, right? Catch a pattern emerging, investigate its causes, leverage that knowledge into a strategy, track the results and repeat ad infinitum to improve incrementally but continuously.

What you may not realize is that performance management applies equally as well to volunteer organizations as it does to businesses. While increasing sales may not be a volunteer organization’s goal, performance management can still improve the organization’s efficiency. Take canvassing volunteers, the front lines of many non-profits: tracking simple data points, like the day of the week, the time of day and whether or not residents are home, can help a volunteer manager direct volunteers to where they will be most successful. It all starts with data – the right kinds of data, collected appropriately and leveraged effectively.

The Right Kinds of Data

Because of the diverse goals and methods of volunteer organizations, it’s impossible to suggest specific types of data that all of them should collect. That said, let’s try to generalize!

Volunteers enlist, serve with the organization, and eventually resign. These are three distinct phases, each accompanied by particular relevant data points. While all three phases are probably worth tracking to some extent, the limited hours in the day require us to prioritize, so focus should be honed as necessary. Need more volunteers? Track their entrances. Want to improve volunteers’ performance? Track their actions. Looking to reduce volunteer turnover? Track their exits.

As mentioned, the specifics of these details will be particular to each volunteer organization, but let’s consider a few examples:

  • One way that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) asks volunteers to invest their time is through letter-writing. If PETA were looking to shore up its corps of letter-writers, a good data point to start tracking would be how new volunteers are hearing about the opportunity in the first place.
  • The American Red Cross relies on volunteers to do everything from raising money to delivering emergency supplies, but the organization was widely criticized for its response to Hurricane Sandy. Did this discourage volunteers so thoroughly that they quit? The only way to tell is to track.

Collecting Your Data

After the relevant data points have been identified, the next step is actually collecting that information. As with the kinds of data that can be pertinent, the methods of gathering information are diverse. Solutions can be as technical as using cookies to track how volunteers are reaching your online sign-up page or as low-tech as a paper survey that volunteers complete as part of their exit interview. What’s central is matching your methods to your means. If all you need to know is why your team of 10 is losing half of its volunteers in two weeks, five printed surveys will probably be a better fit than an survey app you build from scratch.

Another consideration is the standardization of data, which is particularly important if you’re collecting large amounts of information. If you’re only interested in why a handful of volunteers left over the last month, it might be fine to have them complete a written survey with open-ended questions. But if you’re interested in why 10,000 volunteers left over the last 10 years, it will be a lot easier to aggregate that information with multiple-choice questions on a digital survey.

Leveraging Your Data

All right, you identified the data you needed, then you went out and collected it in a standardized form. Now what?

Aggregate it, analyze it, then strategize, that’s what! Aggregating could be as simple as tallying the results of a few dozen paper surveys to as complex as ciphering through millions of bits of digitized information. Analysis follows the same lines: parsing through information yourself looking for trends or using computing power to process large amounts of data. If the trends are simple and obvious enough, you should be able to come up with strategies to capitalize on them, like the aforementioned example of having volunteers canvas neighborhoods when you know residents will be home. Larger amounts of more complex data may be more difficult to tease insights out of, requiring greater manipulation before they reveal their secrets.

If this sounds like a lot, that’s because, admittedly, it can be. Identifying, collecting and analyzing data can get so complex that there’s an entire burgeoning field of academia related to it called Data Science. Thankfully this also means that there are professionals out there who can help you with your data needs. If you find yourself overwhelmed, considering enlisting the aid of a Data Scientist, perhaps as a pro bono volunteer! As an alternative, if you feel your volunteer organization could make greater use of data on a day to day basis, consider pursuing a Master’s in Data Science. It may just be what your organization and your career needs to get to the next level.

About the author: 
Roslyn Tate is an editor on the 2U Inc. website. A recent Goddard College MFA, she enjoys helping people achieve their goals through academics and art. 2U partners with leading colleges and universities to offer online master’s degree programs to students around the world.

Happy Nonprofit, Happy Volunteers: How One Outside-The-Box Thinker Gets it Done

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

Happy Nonprofit, Happy VolunteersMeet Joe Landmichl (not the fellow to the left — see below). He’s the volunteer manager for the Grand Rapids Public Museum, and one of the most impressive people that I met at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service.

What makes Joe a standout? It’s his talent for engaging volunteers of all ages within the museum. Joe places volunteers everywhere: as educators, as graphic designers. Joe even has volunteers working in the museum’s accounting department.

Joe was hired by the museum just six months ago, and in that time has already doubled the number of active volunteers. Imagine what his program will look like a year from now.

A Staff That WANTS Volunteers

I hear from a lot of volunteer managers who find it incredibly difficult to get the buy-in of staff to work with volunteers. Not so for Joe – and that’s why I wanted to interview him. I wanted to know what it is about Joe’s approach that makes it so easy for staff to embrace the use of volunteers.

Getting Strategic

Joe Landmichl talks up an exhibit with two of his volunteers

Joe Landmichl talks up an exhibit with two of his volunteers.

One reason is visionary leadership at the museum. This is an organization that understands the power of volunteers to expand capacity. The museum was growing rapidly and realized it did not possess the skill set on staff to engage more volunteers. Joe was hired for his track record of approaching volunteer engagement in innovative and creative ways.

Another reason is Joe’s strategic approach. One of the first things Joe did was meet with staff from all departments to brainstorm needs and new ways to use volunteers. He asked, “If you could have more volunteers, where would you want them?” He created a detailed list of opportunities throughout the museum to complement the traditional roles. The list includes plenty of short-term opportunities for younger volunteers who have less time to give.

Then, Joe set the goal of engaging those younger volunteers. He started out by giving tours of the museum to representatives from surrounding colleges. That process allowed him to establish relationships at the colleges and opened the door for Joe to make presentations on the campuses.

Thinking Outside the Box

Perhaps the third and most powerful reason for Joe’s success is his thought process when engaging volunteers. When he talks with in interested person, he does not limit the possibilities to professional skills or interests. He asks each person “What is a day in your life like?” and unearths even more possibilities for engagement.

Take these examples:

  • A mother who volunteers with her twelve-year-old son, knowing that the teen years will soon affect the time they spend together.
  • An exchange student from Turkmenistan who is giving talks about his culture and why he chose to study in Grand Rapids.
  • A graphic designer with very limited time, who is assisting the marketing department with small projects as-needed, like designing infographics and retail merchandise.

The bottom line is that Joe does more than manage the volunteer program at the museum. He leads it. Rather than settle for the status quo, he remains on the lookout for new ways to engage volunteers. As a result, the Grand Rapids Public Museum is more than institution: it’s a community that encourages the public to live by its motto, “Be Curious.”


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One volunteer manager placed volunteers in just about every department – and doubled his capacity!