Keeping Volunteers Motivated
Non-profit executive Nancy March found herself playing the role of volunteer coordinator as staffing cuts made her volunteer manager a thing of the past. “I need easy ideas to help me more effectively manage both the non-profit and its volunteers,” she said recently.
Here’s what volunteer coordinators know about keeping volunteers motivated and clients happy:
How you say it is more important than what you say. It’s all in the delivery. Communicating critiques or instructions well requires knowing how, when and where to do it. Especially when it comes to handing out necessary criticism to volunteers—who don’t have to be there—it’s important to gauge the person’s feelings before you start. If you need to correct a volunteer who’s failing at a task, make sure she’s not having a bad day already. Ask how she’s doing and listen closely. You may need to wait until another day.
Offer compliments more than criticisms. Catch volunteers doing something right—and offer immediate praise. Keep track of how often you do it. Karen Awashka, a volunteer coordinator in Madison, WI, starts her day with six dimes in her pocket. Her goal? To transfer each of them to the other pocket before the day is over. Each time she compliments a volunteer with “you’re such a help to our organization,” or “I really appreciate the way you reorganized the bookcase,” she transfers a dime. Why dimes? “Because they’re small, light and they don’t clang together too much,” said Karen. The idea is to find a way to remember to balance criticisms with compliments.
Lead by example. Don’t put off tasks onto others that you can do yourself. Don’t compromise on quality of service delivery or on the brand promise of your organization. When volunteers see leaders digging in and working hard alongside them, they are reminded they are part of an important team.
Ask for feedback. Lauren Bailey, volunteer manager for a youth services organization, suggests asking volunteers what three things could be improved in the organization. “I try to ask each volunteer this question at least once per quarter,” she adds. “It gives them a sense of ownership that we are all looking for solutions to our common problems. And they have great ideas!”