3 Principles of Volunteering

When someone volunteers with your organization, there are a number of things that happen. As the volunteer coordinator, you log valuable volunteer hours. The volunteer potentially fulfills some of their own personal goals and motivations. And finally, your organization is strengthened by the volunteer’s service, excitement, and energy.

There are three basic principles at play when a new volunteer joins the team. Knowing these principles allows you to leverage and utilize them in meaningful ways. 


When a volunteer joins your team, they receive the benefit of being affiliated with your organization. Maybe they plan on including it on their resume as a demonstration of community involvement. Or, perhaps, it is an opportunity to further collaborate with similar causes (such as other music festivals or 5Ks).

Help your volunteers understand the meaning of such an affiliation. If you are comfortable with it, you might even consider offering to serve as a resume reference. This will boost a feeling of affiliation, pride, and purpose in their volunteer work.


Some volunteers get excited to receive goody bags or free swag. Whether it is a pizza party, a collectible sticker to add to their collection, or a set of free tickets – identify which incentives matter most to your volunteers. Keep in mind – where there is swag, there is spending. Be sure to include any new incentives in your budget. (No budget? Reach out to corporate sponsors!)

There are often upsides to this type of spending. Beyond motivating and celebrating your volunteers, incentives can also serve as a new marketing strategy and/or a way to strengthen the feeling volunteer community.

Let’s take the example of t-shirts. Free t-shirts usually come with the organization’s logo, front and center. When the volunteer wears the shirt in public, they are showing support for the organization. Building on this idea, you could encourage volunteers to wear those t-shirts to all of your major events. A volunteering “uniform” will help your volunteers stand out in the crowd and feel proud of their role in the team.


Some volunteers appreciate (and deserve!) a show of gratitude to keep them motivated. There are many ways to acknowledge the work that your volunteers have done. Get creative! Here are some ideas to get you started…

  • Give your volunteers a special volunteer “status” if they have been volunteering with you a certain number of hours or years. Perks of that status might include: inviting them to participate in more important and exciting roles, gathering their input on leadership-level volunteer program decisions.
  • Hold an event in appreciation of your volunteers. A banquet or a summer field day might just do the trick! Check in with your volunteers to see if this would be exciting for them.
  • Include their name on the list of key volunteers or giving them a special thanks when they arrive and leave every day. Little gestures like this can make all the difference to your volunteers.

All three elements – affiliation, incentives, and recognition – are at play when a new volunteer joins your team. How will you help your volunteers leverage their affiliation for their benefit? How will you continue to encourage and motivate your volunteers with incentives? How will you recognize the work and impact of your volunteer team? With a bit of planning (and sometimes some extra funds), you and your volunteer team can feel fulfilled and motivated each day.

Samantha Gratton

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