The Most Common Types of Volunteers (and How to Manage Them)

Every volunteer team has its share of characters–gotta collect them all! 

Whether you’ve been around the block a few times or you’re new to this whole volunteer-coordinator-thing, there’s bound to be a few familiar faces on your team. It’s important to know who to expect, what motivates them, and how you can best lead them. 

The over-eager 

This person is SO excited to be here. Simply thrilled. There’s a task to be done? Got it. You were thinking about changing that? Already done. In so many ways this person can be a real asset to a team, as long as they don’t drive you crazy first. When you’ve got someone who is over-eager, try to harness that energy and enthusiasm. But also use clear communication with them to create boundaries as needed so their excitement doesn’t rub anyone the wrong way or get too out of hand. 

The hand-holder 

Ah, the one who does everything just the way you tell them to…because they won’t know what to do otherwise. This person needs and yearns for constant instructions to know exactly what they are doing and how to do it. You know you can trust they will follow orders, but sometimes this person can take all of your time or need a little too much attention. If you aren’t able to metaphorically hold their hand through each step of the process, try to pair them with a leader who can help supervise. But also, try to find ways that you can empower the hand-holder to use their best judgment to make decisions and step in to help without needing a step-by-step instruction sheet. 

The swag collector 

In it for the t-shirt, the sticker, the pens, the bag or the free food. Whenever they hear “free”, they are suddenly there. You know what motivates this volunteer, it’s quite easy to see. So make sure you pad your budget in order to offer free swag. Not only will you have some happy volunteers, but your brand is worn all over town afterwards. Think of it as cheap marketing meets free labor instead of getting annoyed that these volunteers expect something in return. At the same time, try to set expectations and find other possible motivators for these volunteers (such as the organization’s mission, the culture, the networking) so you can encourage them to stick around, with or without a t-shirt to show for it. 

The socialite 

Let’s take a selfie! This volunteer is in it for the friends, the networking, the connections. Maybe it’s a stay-at-home mom desperate for some time out of the house or maybe it’s someone new to town who is ready to meet new people. Volunteering can be a community thing, so make sure these volunteers know they are welcome! Not only will they be the ones wanting to build up the culture and have some fun with your team, but they might invite some more friends to come along with them. Just be sure to keep these volunteers on task as needed as they tend to get sidetracked talking about their latest Netflix binge or where they plan to meet for drinks later. Also, watch out for cliques forming and try to encourage an inclusive environment for all volunteers on the team. 

The time-tracker 

Can you sign my sheet? This volunteer is in it to check the box and mark down the hours. Whether it’s for high school graduation, required community service work, or corporate volunteer day, they have to be here. While this person might obsessively watch the clock, they probably still had a few choices when it came to where exactly they wanted to volunteer. Consider this volunteer as one of your biggest opportunities when recruiting future volunteers. They will do what you tell them to (because getting your signature depends on it!) but in the process, you might win them over so they want to come again next time all on their own. 

The natural leader 

The person with a plan and some ideas on how to implement it. This volunteer is a leader and they probably already know that. Maybe they are a leader in their day job or maybe people just gravitate toward them for thoughts and opinions. Awesome, you’ve been wanting one of those, right? If you spot a leader, give them a leadership role that suits both them and your needs. Sometimes your leadership positions are all filled though, so you’ve got to make sure this volunteer doesn’t step on any toes. If all you’ve got left are some mundane tasks, pair them with a hand-holder to get it done together. Later on, feel free to ask them if they’d like to apply for a leadership role in the future.  

Of course, there are variations of all of these people on every volunteer team. At the end of the day, it’s about finding out what makes them tick and how to best leverage their skills, interests, and tendencies to make your volunteer team as strong as it can be. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses (yes, even you), but instead of seeing why a volunteer is driving you crazy, seek to understand where they best fit on the team. Being a volunteer coordinator and leading the team to success isn’t always easy but coming at it with the right perspective makes all the difference. You’ve got this! 

Samantha Gratton

Samantha is a staff writer at VolunteerLocal. She has experience coordinating events and loves chocolate.