Retaining a consistent and returning pool of volunteers is often the most challenging task associated with running a nonprofit organization. Volunteerism, by definition, is a leisure activity. And seemingly, Americans are running shorter and shorter on time, allowing volunteer activities to fall by the wayside. So, how do you motivate and retain an ever-distracted pool of volunteers?
Excellent Volunteer Management
A report from the Urban Institute in 2004 notes, “The percentage of time a paid staff coordinator devotes to volunteer management is positively related to the capacity of organizations to take on additional volunteers.” Also, “It is…not realistic…to expect that once a volunteer is recruited they can work without support.”
Managing volunteers is no different than managing employees. A good manager has team members that complete tasks quickly and correctly. A great manager has team members that want to complete tasks quickly and correctly.
Adopt These Core Volunteer Management Values
- Build a Solid Organizational Foundation
The most successful nonprofits count on a strong organizational foundation to work from regardless of the day’s tasks. By keeping detailed volunteer lists, task lists, budget records and other group infrastructure, a manager of volunteers is prepared before and during a function, knowing well in advance who is doing which task and when. This alleviates stress from the manager as well as making volunteers as productive as possible.
- Don’t Waste Their Time
By keeping that solid organizational foundation, volunteers are not left asking, “What should I do?”. Volunteers, by their nature, want to help and be of use. If they spend time fruitlessly, they will not volunteer again.
- Make it Easy and Flexible
Allow volunteers to perform tasks when and where they want whenever possible. It is true that everyone must be present for a march or a rally. However, instead of cumbersome meetings beforehand, allow volunteers to make placards and posters at home or try conference calls after dinner instead of meeting in town.
- Difference Makers and Gratitude
Highlight your volunteers’ successes by showing them the differences they made. Then, show your appreciation with a pat on the back, an ice cream party or a round of drinks if appropriate.
Deal with Common Volunteer Excuses
As the volunteer coordinator for your event or organization, you have to maintain some flexibility. Volunteers aren’t going to get demoted or reprimanded in any sort of real way—where an employee might get demoted, fired or not get that next raise. That means they are bound to be more fickle. Always have some backup volunteers on your list and a Plan B. But here are some ideas for dealing with those common excuses.
“Is there another day or way you can help out with our event instead?”
“How can I assist you in omitting that challenge so that you can remain committed to this volunteer effort?”
“Can you come for just part of the agreed upon time? We’re really in a bind.”
“Are you still committed to our mission? If so we would love to have you volunteer again in the future.”
“Is there another job you feel you might be better suited for?”
If all else fails, just thank them for their honesty: “We would love to have you back to volunteer at our next event.” Be sure to restate your mission and the importance of volunteers in achieving that mission.