How to Motivate Your Volunteers

4 minute read
By the
  • Jan 10th, 2017

Your volunteers are more than unpaid workers. They have chosen to contribute their time and effort to your cause for reasons other than financial reward. This makes their rationale for giving their time more powerful and entrenched than mere immediate financial reward. Because of their unique status, they deserve special and dedicated attention.

Get to know your volunteers

Establish your relationship with each person on your team by getting to know him or her, and searching for the underlying reason(s) that they are committed to this specific cause or initiative. Some may be a part of your project because of a personal connection, others because of global reasoning. Some do volunteer for less than altruistic reasons, but those often can easily be ferreted out. Nonetheless, the fact is that they still are with you for a reason, and are with you without pay. Establish a genuine connection with these people in order to make them feel valued.

Promote and practice communication

Every person wants to feel acknowledged and appreciated. It is your job as leader to make your workers feel appreciated, and you can only do so through effective communication strategies. Some may be subtle, others more direct.

Respect is the most direct non-verbal means to show appreciate. Aretha Franklin was on to something significant when she produced the song by that name. Respect both the person and the effort, even if results day-to-day may be less than stellar. Effort is the hallmark of a dedicated employee and a determined volunteer.

Many of us are motivated by social recognition and public acknowledgement of our efforts. We are validated when we are recognized for the skills and contributions that we make. Recognize, though, that others find public recognition uncomfortable. By getting to know your volunteer, you will be able to differentiate between the two types, and find the recognition technique that works well for each person. For some, a simple thank you note, given one-on-one, is more impactful than a public speech full of flowery praise.

Acknowledge their efforts and create a community

Be sure to show each and all of your volunteers how they are making a difference. Provide frequent feedback in this regard, but do not be too effusive in your praise, or overstate the benefit of their commitments. Honesty shows, as does false praise.

Build community. Each volunteer already has something in common with every other volunteer: the decision to support your cause. Build that commonality into a sense of belonging. It works for the volunteers and for the charity’s clients.

Beat the Street was a program that ran in the 1980s in Winnipeg’s core area. Its stated purpose was to teach people living on the street how to read. However. One client showed how the program served other purposes, as well. This client declared that he only wanted to learn how to write his name so that he could get a letter to his mother. Day after day he attended at the centre, but made no measurable progress. In many areas, he seemed astute, if ordinary. Yet, he could not retain, from day to day, an apparent memory of what he had learned earlier. That is until one volunteer saw through the facade. This street person did not want so much to learn to write as he wanted the daily social interaction. He was part of an important community. Keep the door open. This is meant mostly in a figurative way. Problems arise, in business, in person lives and even in the volunteer sector. People are not machines, and motivation and circumstances change. Be ready to listen to and assist your volunteer. This shows they are valued and that they are not isolated. It results in enhanced commitment from the volunteer.

Support your volunteers

Make getting and keeping involved easy. Schedules should be flexible and designed with the individual in mind. That is only possible if you continue to communicate with and learn about your volunteers. Make signup for projects and shifts easy. Make the shifts short. Be flexible. 27% of volunteers surveyed about re-volunteering indicated that convenient scheduling (working around personal and work commitments) makes them more likely to volunteer again. 24% said proof that their volunteer work matters would influence them, while 23% cited volunteer opportunities that benefited their professional development as a motivator. 15% said social networking opportunities were important while 11% said discounts on products and services of interest to them had value.

Whether in business, at home or in your volunteer environment, lead by example. Train well, and provide ongoing training. Be accurate and reliable in all you say and do. Consider your volunteers to be your team, your family. Make them feel the same way about each other.

Volunteers are a special group of people. While most of us are motivated by many of the same things that motivate non-volunteers, the difference is that , by definition, a volunteer participates because he wants to, not because she has to. For that reason alone, each volunteer should be treated as if he is invaluable. Because she is.

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