There’s nothing worse than a washed up, frazzled, or burnt out volunteer to drag down your organization’s energy. As a nonprofit, you likely need volunteers to keep you running effectively and economically. Volunteers have a variety of motivations for working with you: they could be giving back to an organization that has helped them or their family; they may feel a sense of duty, obligation, or purpose; or they may be using their work with you an opportunity to get experience or build skills in a new field.You want to make sure they enjoy the work, feel a sense of accomplishment, and feel acknowledged for their contributions. The guidelines below will help you succeed.
Share your vision
As a leader, it is your job to explain to the volunteers the overall vision and mission for your organization. Sharing your vision gives volunteers an appreciation of the larger goal. Volunteers also want to understand how the work they do contributes to that vision. The work can sometimes be grueling and thankless, but if there is a clear connection to the higher purpose, your volunteers will feel good about the work they do.
Your nonprofit should have a clear and organized set of policies and instructions, especially since you may have many part-time, temporary, and transient volunteer workers. Without clear instructions, people may waste time doing rogue work or rework, and no one likes to waste time. Setting measurable goals for volunteers helps them stay on task and feel a sense of accomplishment. Follow-ups from leadership are important guideposts to success. Make sure, however, that the work has some challenge built in and is not all drudgery. Be open to having volunteers carve out their own responsibilities or suggest ways you haven’t thought of to accomplish the work.
Match the Skills and Desires of the Volunteer to the Task
Ever have someone who hates to lead be put in a position of leadership? Or a math-o-phobe be chartered with balancing the books for a multi-million-dollar campaign? Disaster. Work with the volunteers to understand where they want to provide their service and how you can create a win-win match. Make sure there are a variety of roles for all types and skill levels of volunteers. Recognize too that some people are volunteering to get away from their day jobs, so don’t assume they want to pursue the same volunteer activity that they do at their 9-5 job.
One of the most important things you can do is acknowledge the contributions of your volunteers. Frequent “thank yous” are appreciated, of course. Even more important, most people love public recognition, such as awards ceremonies, parties, and dinners. Whenever possible, share kudos and news from outside. Offer letters of recommendation or other documentation for the volunteers’ current or future employers.
As important as it is to recruit volunteers, it is also important to know when to end the volunteer relationships. Especially with higher pressure leadership positions, have a defined end point and an exit strategy for your volunteers so that they do not burn out. Look for ways to “promote” junior people to assume roles with more responsibility, and build a pipeline of fresh talent.
Rollins wants you to have a happy, motivated, and efficient and effective volunteer community to help your non-profit organization succeed. The work you do is too important to expect anything less.