Volunteers give their time because they’re committed to a cause, and they come back because it’s fun. You have to be able to deliver on both counts. They don’t want beads and trinkets, but they do want to be appreciated.
It’s important to show volunteers that you place a real value on their work. You should offer them what you offer your donors – rewards, recognition and respect.
- Give them a recognition lunch or dinner.
- Try and build team spirit. Soldiers don’t face death for their ideals or their country or their flag, they fight so as not to let their comrades down, and the same goes for less final sacrifices. People give their best when they see themselves as among discriminating friends.
- Help them to get to know their fellow volunteers. Have social meetings a few times a year – throw in a few cheap drinks and nibbles.
- List their names in your report (if there are a thousand of them, write small). Thank them in your speeches.
- Make a phone call, write a letter, say thank you.
- Give them the training they need. Help them learn new things.
- Talk to them.
- Supervise them properly and offer them resources and support.
- Demand that they do a good job.
- Consult them. Ask them to suggest other volunteers, for example. Ask their opinion on the experience.
- Tell them about the complaints and grievance resolution procedures in case they have a beef.
There are occasions, too, when you really do need to assess the value of your volunteers, and to write it down and justify it if anybody asks. These times come when you’re applying for a grant or proposing a joint project, or entering any other arrangement where there’s a question of who is contributing what. A grantmaker will want to know what your level of commitment is, a partner will want to know how much you’re putting in. For these purposes it helps considerably if you’re able to put a dollar figure on your workers; and for this purpose, the applicable figure is the cost of hiring someone to do the job. The fact that you are getting it pro bono is not something that affects them – put it in a footnote, if that.
On the Record
And if you’re trying to motivate and challenge them, then there’s another thing to consider; if that’s one of your strategic goals, then you should be measuring it.
A recent report on “Volunteerism Among the Nation’s Voluntary Health Agencies” pointed to some major contradictions in what agencies preach and what they practice when it comes to volunteers. For example, 93% of the study’s respondents said their primary concern was whether volunteers were satisfied, but almost half of the respondents said they did nothing to measure volunteer satisfaction.
Do you survey your volunteers? Do you ask them whether they’re satisfied with the way you use them?
Remember, the way volunteers generally register their dissatisfaction isn’t usually by filling out a form, it’s more than likely they will just stop contributing their time and effort. You hold on to volunteers by a very weak thread – the smallest resistance and it tears away. If they aren’t ahead of you, they’re away. If you want to keep volunteers committed, you have to show them that you value their time just as highly as if they were paid staff. You have to find them jobs that produce results that are worth as much as what they put in. You have to take them seriously. If you give them make-work jobs, things that don’t need doing, you’ll lose twice – you’ll get little out of them, and they’ll sense you don’t need them and will go elsewhere, taking their services over the years and their potential contributions elsewhere while telling people unhelpful things about your club in many cases. This you don’t need.