Guilty Volunteers are Bad for Everyone

Don't guilt people into volunteeringWe’ve all felt it at one point or another – that itchy, uncomfortable feeling when you know you’ve been bad. Maybe you haven’t been calling your Mom enough. Maybe you ate the last Krispy Kreme even though you already had two and your husband was saving his. Maybe you didn’t try hard enough to figure out which parts of your Starbucks coffee cup should be recycled and which should be composted.

Guilt is a uniquely human emotion that is used all the time to get people to do certain things and act in certain ways – with great success, generally. In turns out, however, that guilt might not be the best motivator when it comes to altruistic, good-for-the-world actions.

Guilty? Me? Nah.

A recent study by National Geographic Society and the consultancy GlobeScan indicates that while Americans do lag behind the rest of the world in terms of sustainable behaviors, they don’t really feel bad about it.

Katya Andresen recently wrote on her blog about this issue, and its implications for nonprofit marketing. She suggests focusing on what going green will do for the individual, versus society as a whole, in order to motivate behavior change.

Alternatives for Volunteer Engagement

Based on this new information, it stands to reason that guilt is not the best way to motivate volunteers to get involved with your organization. This makes sense; engaging volunteers by telling them how bad they are if they DON’T sign up doesn’t seem like a very good strategy, and could breed resentment.

Instead, try to focus on the positive aspects of getting involved with your organization, such as meeting new people, learning new skills, and making a concrete difference in the community. If you’re having trouble coming up with other positive examples, take a look at this list of 20 Great Reasons to Volunteer.

Bottom line: Your organization’s mission is important, and the work you do is rewarding in many ways in its own right. So don’t feel that you need to resort to strategies like guilt to get volunteers to help you out. Instead, view your relationship with volunteers as a partnership, with your organization giving as good as you get. In the end, everyone will win.

Want to learn more about recruiting great volunteers for your cause? Check out the free webinar from the VolunteerMatch Learning Center, “Best Practices for Recruiting Online.”

(Photo from Tony Crider)