How To Ensure Effective and Engaged Volunteers – Part Two – Keeping Volunteers Motivated and Supported

In Part One of this series, I wrote about how to find good volunteers. Finding good volunteers is half the battle. You want them to stay, and in order for that to happen, volunteers need to be motivated and supported. Some of the biggest problem areas for volunteers are not having enough work to do, doing work they don’t want to do, and not feeling appreciated.

I mentioned this before, but it bears repeating – Don’t take on volunteers if you can’t support them. If you don’t have something concrete for the person to do on a regular basis, don’t take someone on at this time. Volunteers need structure, as well as effort and engagement from the staff.

Are you ready for your new volunteers?
If you are bringing in volunteers to work in your office, make sure they have a decent workspace and computer to use.

Each volunteer should have a supervisor. Other people in the office may have work for the volunteer, but it should all be directed through the supervisor.

Each volunteer should also have a work plan, which can be transformed from the position description. This link includes some sample workplans. Workplace Template They may be more complex than you need.

I strongly recommend putting together a volunteer manual for all volunteers. This can include information such as history and mission, organizational policies, accomplishments, and key messages. You can also write out specific instructions pertaining to each volunteer’s work.

Here are some sample volunteer manuals.
The second one also includes other sample templates such as a volunteer contract.

On their first day
Before your volunteers start work, give them a good orientation. Show them around the office, introduce them to everyone, and show them how pertinent equipment (computer, copier, etc.) works. 

Go over the volunteer manual and the volunteer’s work plan. The volunteer should have input about the type of work they will be doing. Make sure everything is clear.

The amount of training you give your volunteers will depend upon their experience. Take time to give them the best training possible.

In addition, do something special for them on their first day. The Volunteer Manager at a place I used to work would always bring in a cupcake for new volunteers. Another good idea is for the volunteers to eat lunch with the staff. You could either go out or have pizza at the office. This is a great opportunity for volunteers to get to know people.

Are they lovin’ it?
Make sure your volunteer’s experience is a good one. While structure is important, be flexible if the volunteer needs to make a change in their schedule. Volunteers should enjoy the work they for you, and they should like coming in to help. Don’t give them work they don’t want to do.

Keep it up
Volunteers and their supervisors should hold a weekly check-in meeting to go over progress and exchange feedback. It doesn’t have to be a long meeting, but it can help volunteers feel engaged, while the supervisor can assess how well the volunteer is doing.

Show appreciation
Volunteers need to feel appreciated. A simple thank you is always good. So is bringing in treats for them, having a regular lunch together, holding a recognition event, and including volunteer profiles in your newsletter or website.

Volunteers like to be included. If it’s appropriate, invite them to attend staff or committee meetings. Keep them updated on your organization’s progress and accomplishments. Good volunteers could even manage other volunteers

Keep showing appreciation, but make sure it’s sincere and specific.  Encourage everyone on the staff to make your volunteers feel appreciated.

Is it working?
While it’s important to show appreciation, you need to give your volunteers honest, constructive feedback. This is why the weekly check-in meeting is so important. Help your volunteers if they need  improvement or give them another task that might be better suited for them. If a volunteer isn’t working work out, it doesn’t benefit anyone if you keep the person on.

Investing the time to keep your volunteers motivated and supported will pay off for everyone in your organization.

Volunteer Resources
Developing and Managing Volunteer Programs

Photo by The Big Lunch via Flickr

How To Ensure Effective and Engaged Volunteers – Part One – Finding Good Volunteers

Photo by WA State Library via Flickr

It’s National Volunteer Week. Many nonprofit organizations rely on volunteers. Some provide services such as tutoring or mentoring and others help out with publicity and administrative tasks.

Taking on volunteers can be very rewarding for an organization, as well the volunteer, but it can also be frustrating for both parties. Two problem areas are finding the right people and keeping your volunteers engaged. In this post, I’m going to write about finding good volunteers.   

If I can offer one piece of advice it would be – Don’t take on volunteers if you can’t support them.  People may contact you seeking a volunteer opportunity.  If you don’t have something concrete for the person to do on a regular basis, don’t take someone on at this time, even if you think you can’t turn away a potential volunteer. Volunteers require effort and engagement from the staff.

What is your need?
If you do have a need for volunteers, take the process seriously and go about it the same way you would if you were hiring a staff member.

First, put together a position description. This will help you assess your needs and what the person will do. Then you can post it when you recruit. The position description can also be transformed into the volunteer’s work plan.  I will go into more detail about that in my next post.

Here are some sample volunteer position descriptions.

Training vs. Experience
Decide how much training you want to provide. If you are recruiting tutors, they will probably need to go through a training. However, if you are looking for an administrative person, you will most likely want someone with experience.

Finding someone with experience may take longer, but it will be worth it. Yes, people with experience will be looking for paid positions, but you might be able to find someone who is between jobs, a stay-at-home parent with relevant experience, or a retired professional. Don’t be afraid to be picky about choosing volunteers.

If you do bring on volunteers without experience, make sure you give them a good training and are available for guidance and support.

Finding the right people
Your best bet is to ask people close to you, such as board members, staff, and other volunteers. You would want a personal recommendation like this for higher level work and any type of work done on your website. 

Otherwise, you can post announcements on sites such as Idealist or Volunteer Match, on your website and social media, and on community list serves. 

Ask for a resume, writing or design samples, and references. Do a background check if the person will be working with children.

When you interview potential volunteers, besides assessing whether they have the right skills and experience for the position, see if they are willing to commit to a set schedule. This is often one of the biggest problems with volunteers. Of course, they should also be passionate about your work and fit in with your organizational culture.

I really recommend taking the time to screen your candidates. Any investment you make up front will pay off in the end for both your organization and the volunteer.

In Part Two, I will write about keeping your volunteers motivated and supported.

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