Rebuilding and Reframing for Volunteer Management – Post COVID

As we begin to consider what our new normal will look like, remembering the roots of volunteerism and adapting them the new world is crucial. This evolution is not just essential for the good of our agencies, but for our profession as well.

We must be forward thinking. WE have to be the leaders to promote our programs and prove the value of engaging the support of volunteers.

Our fundamentals are rooted in recruiting, screening, training and the placement of volunteers. Many volunteer managers haven’t stopped their work through COVID-19 but many must reinvent and recreate their programs. Listed below are some tips to getting back to basics as you begin welcoming your volunteers back!

Needs Assessment

The first step is to conduct a needs assessment. There are four points to consider. What are the community needs, the organizational needs, the needs of the volunteer services program and the needs of the volunteers? Where is the sweet spot where those four aspects intersect? Can your volunteers serve these needs virtually or within social distancing guidelines? If not, can you consider an out of the box solution to move your program forward?

Recruiting

Once completing your needs assessment, plan to reassess current volunteer placements. Collaborate with your organization’s staff and leadership to consider all aspects of your organization’s needs and how volunteers can help serve those needs.

Screening and Training

Through this pandemic, we have learned that screening and training can be completed virtually. It isn’t our first choice, but it can be done well. There are great resources to help support the implementation of virtual screening and training, many are free or inexpensive. One such example is the free online webinars offered by the Texas Volunteer Management Conference (https://texasvmc.org).

Placement

Consider the need for facemasks, gloves and social distancing for volunteer placements. Also consider your own agency’s requirement, local and state requirements. Many organizations have successfully created opportunities to continue volunteer involvement while maintaining healthy social distancing practices. Consider current legal requirements, taking temperatures, updating the volunteer handbook and creating a COVID questionnaire and waiver. Solicit support from HR and your peers in the volunteer management community.

Leadership

Create your plan and present the post COVID-19 volunteer management plan to your organization’s leadership team. It is imperative to have buy in from leadership. Now, more than ever, volunteer professionals must insist on having a seat at the table.

As professional volunteer managers, the last thing that we want to see is the decline or elimination of opportunities to serve, opportunities to create advocates, opportunities to move the needle of our missions. Many of us have spent our careers being creative and constantly being problem solvers. We must continue to think out of the box with ways to connect our volunteers to the mission of our organizations.

While so much of this can be overwhelming, this is what we do. We adapt to the needs. The needs of the community haven’t stopped. In many respects, they’ve grown. Who’s hurting, who needs support? It might be our very own volunteers.

Disconnection and social distancing are unnatural to our work. At our core, we are connectors. How do we continue to connect our volunteers to meaningful work and our mission? While many of us have been paralyzed by fear, we cannot and will not give up!

Now, more than ever, we need to work together for the good of our profession and for the sake of those in need. There may be some uncertainty or even a bit of fear with the unknown future of volunteerism. That is precisely why we need to be leaders in our profession. We have the unique opportunity to be trailblazers, to CREATE the new normal for volunteerism. Our agencies and our volunteers are depending on our experience and our vision for the new face of service.

This is where peer support is imperative. Supporting each other professionally has never been more important. Together, we can overcome the challenges facing us. Let’s work TOGETHER to create what WE think the new normal should be for service and volunteerism.


Guest post by Stephanie Canfield, Leadership Community Advocate.

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First Millennials, Now Gen Z: A Recap for Those Trying to Keep Up

Now that they are all of-age, Millennials have joined the workforce (and volunteer force) with full steam ahead. The introduction of this generation to the workforce came as a jolt to many, as the values and motivations of this generation were unprecedented. Now, just as we’ve finally wrapped our minds around the nature of Millennials, another generation is cropping up behind them – Gen Z – and what a fascinating generation it is!

Reviewing the two, it helps to start with simple comparisons. Comparing Millennials to Gen Z, there are many similarities with subtle differences. For example…

  • Millennials are tech-savy, introduced to technology at a young age with home computers, laptops, cell phones, etc. In contrast, Gen Z are tech natives, born and raised with cell phones, iPads, smart watches, etc.
  • Millennials are motivated to engage in justice work (social, environmental, etc.) due to the dissonance between what they were raised to believe vs what they eventually learned over time due to self-educating resources. Gen Z are being born and raised with discussions of justice, and therefore have an intuition and familiarity with such topics. While millennials often drift into justice work, Gen Z root themselves in it.

There are also a handful of areas that are rather uniform in both generations:

  • Both generations are value and mission driven in their actions, beliefs, career choices, purchases, and philanthropic behaviors (including volunteering and donating).
  • Both generations are laser-focused on the positive and negative impacts of the companies and organizations they support or are affiliated with. They are no stranger to thorough research or accountability.
  • Finally, both generations appreciate the art, innovation, and creativity that comes with problem-solving — hence the warm embrace of “viral” culture in both generations.

How Millennials Pushed the Needle

Millennials began pushing the needle with their notably increased interest in careers in the nonprofit sector. Rather than climbing corporate ladders, Millennials want to do work that matters. This motivation, in combination with the 2000’s cultural surge in entrepreneurship, cultivated a brand new industry intersection that is quintessentially Millennial: social entrepreneurship.

If you think about it, social entrepreneurship leverages Millennial strengths perfectly: mission-driven work, technology-based solutions, creative branding, and digital social marketing.

Millennials are the generation that brought corporate social responsibility to the table — to the executive table, to be exact. Before, it was much more rare to observe corporate responsibility in action. Many corporations shared a common goal — to make more revenue. Until recently, corporate social responsibility made little impact on revenue.

However, Millennials leveraged their widespread digital presence and collective purchasing power to force corporations to care. There seemed to be a gradual realization: in order to appeal to the growing generation of Millennial workers and consumers, businesses needed to prove their values and measure impact.

This insight became important for industries of all kinds, including the nonprofit industry. Although the nonprofit industry was already values-driven and mission-driven, Millennials applied more pressure to nonprofit accountability. The idea being, “Your heart might be in the right place, but what are the true impacts and consequences to which you must remain accountable?” (For example, the issues surrounding voluntourism and White savior complexes.)

This question of accountability has bled into the decision-making process of Gen Z as well, which we will discuss next.

How Gen Z Is Pushing the Needle

Millennials started widespread conversations about justice, responsibility, and accountability in a way that forced corporations and nonprofit organizations to care and respond. In a way, Millennials built the foundation for the work that Gen Z would carry on (and is carrying on).

Let’s take the generationally shared question: “Your heart might be in the right place, but what are the true impacts and consequences to which you must remain accountable?”

As said in the Philanthropy Journal at NC State University, “The task of the nonprofit is to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they are who they profess to be, and that their impact is tangible.”

Gen Z does not only ask the tough questions — they find the answers, make decisions, and apply pressure accordingly. Meaning, for example, that they will not only decline a job offer from a corporation that is not aligned with their values; Gen Z will take it a step further to communicate the misalignment to those they are responding to, encouraging — at times urging — others to do the same.

After all, one of the major ways Gen Z has moved the needle is through the immeasurable surge and value of social influence.

Although it is more difficult for companies and organizations to truly earn this generation’s trust, the value of this trust is worth the effort of earning it. Gen Z relies on the trusted feedback of those they choose to follow on social platforms — whether those people are friends and family, internet friends, or celebrities and influencers.

Therefore, it becomes in the best interest of corporations and organizations to appeal to the interests of those influencers, as word will spread quickly, cost-effectively, and exponentially. If customer or constituent trust and feedback was important before, it’s even more important now.

Gen Z works as a collective, in many ways, rather than as an individual (as is more commonly observed in Millennials). Gen Z is more diverse than any of the generations before, and interestingly, that diversity inspires a much deeper generational understanding and commitment to advocacy for themselves and their peers. Although most of Gen Z is currently underage, it is safe to predict that the collective purchasing power of Gen Z will be far greater than even Millennial purchasing power. The thorough, thoughtful decision of one will much more effectively influence the decisions of their peers.

The majority of Gen Z is still quite young, so we have to watch our predictions over time. Here are a few predictions that are a safe bet:

  • As tech natives, Gen Z will request and require more technology solutions at worksites, volunteer sites, homes, and communities.
  • Eventually, the world will care about what this generation cares about — whether due to genuine interest and influence, or commercial/economic pressure.
  • Just as values-based and responsibility-focused careers were created or expanded for Millennials joining the workforce, new and prominent roles will likely be created for Gen Z as well. Workplaces will be restructured to include more roles relating to workplace justice and community impact, as well as roles that enforce systematic checks and balances, ensuring measured impact is followed closely by actionable accountability.

Stay tuned as the youngest generation grows up and joins the workforce. They are likely to bring great change to the world we live in, just as generations before have done in their own unique way.

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10 Myths About Managing Volunteers

A popular favorite from the VolunteerLocal Blog Archives.


Volunteer coordination is hard work, and there are a lot of misconceptions about what the role entails (and how to be successful along the way). We’re here today to de-bunk some of the most common myths we hear about volunteer management.

  1. You’re on call, 24-7. If you’re passionate about your job, managing volunteers could turn into an all-day, every-day gig. But with established communication protocols and an active team, you can (and should!) unplug. 
  2. You can’t solicit volunteers for donations. Many volunteers see their time as their primary contribution to an organization, but if there are costs associated with onboarding (background checks, etc.) asking them to cover those fees is a good path into the donor pipeline. 
  3. Volunteer trainings need to involve slides and manuals. Sure, you should cover compliance and protocols in an onboarding, but bring the mission to life with role-playing, behind-the-scenes tours or other activities that engage and inspire volunteers. 
  4. You should be happy with whoever you get. That old “beggars can’t be choosers” philosophy could really disrupt your organization. Screening volunteers is critical. They should be a right match for the organization, and placed in a role that maximizes their skills.  
  5. There’s no professional development for volunteer managers. So many people fall into this line of work. Seek out a support system of other volunteer managers who can share best practices through your local United Way, nonprofit professionals network or online forums. They can also recommend conferences and webinars to grow your skills. 
  6. Volunteer programs are free. While a volunteer program can bring great value to your organization, they’re like a garden that needs attention and investment to yield the best results. Don’t forget to build recognition materials, management software and other supplies into your budget. 
  7. Your organization should jump on every Day of Service opportunity or group volunteer request. Saying ‘no’ to someone (or lots of someones) who want to contribute to your organization can seem crazy. But if the activity is out of scope for your organization, a ‘yes’ can lead to confusion and cause more harm than good. 
  8. You’re the only one recruiting volunteers for your cause. Partnerships – with corporations, colleges and universities and other civic organizations – can create productive volunteer pipelines. 
  9. Liability and insurance isn’t your territory. Make sure you are working closely with your organizations’ compliance arm to ensure both volunteers and the organization are not putting each other at risk. 
  10. Measuring volunteer impact is impossible. With proper tracking of volunteer hours and assignments, your organization can put a relative dollar value on volunteer power. And by collecting stories of volunteer initiatives and outcomes, your leveraging powerful anecdotes to support your cause.

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4 Core Traits to Look for in a New Volunteer Coordinator

There are many reasons why you might find yourself reading this article now. It could be that your previous volunteer coordinator moved away, leaving an empty seat at the team table. Or, perhaps your nonprofit has never hired a volunteer coordinator before and is now in a position to make that advancement.

Whatever the reason, there will be certain qualities and qualifications to look out for as you begin interacting with applicants. Let’s break it down.

What’s their “why”?

We’ve all heard this question in interviews: “Why are you applying for this position?” True, the question is an old one. However, in mission-driven work, it’s critical to understand a volunteer coordinator’s “why”.

There is no right answer, but at the very minimum, the position must mean more than a paycheck. For example, maybe they thrive in fast-paced work settings, or they love organizing groups of people to make a difference.

Volunteer management is hard work, and if there isn’t a value-packed reason why the person is showing up to work every day…they may one day not show up. Ask around, and I’m sure someone on your team will have some kind of insight into volunteer coordinator burnout. Which reminds me – once you find the perfect fit for the role, do your best to support and appreciate their work.

Communication skills

A volunteer coordinator will be in constant communication. The role requires close collaboration with the rest of the team, as well as with the volunteer base.

When interviewing an applicant, pay attention to how the conversation flows. Do they seem to follow the conversation easily, understanding your questions and engaging with them? Can you easily understand the heart of what they are saying when they speak with you? How personable do they seem? (We’ll get to that in just a moment.)

This is important because your team will need to convey short term and long term goals to the volunteer coordinator. Then, the volunteer coordinator will need to efficiently communicate those goals to the volunteers, synthesized through meaningful tasks, projects, and volunteer roles.

If an applicant has experience in teaching, tutoring, coaching, or some other kind of instruction, that is a great sign of their communication skills. Remember – their experiences in previous, seemingly unrelated jobs are relevant as long as they gained transferable skills from those experiences.

An authentic, inviting personality

We all want to work with a team of complementary personalities – hello amazing work banter! But in some positions, an amiable personality goes a longer way than in other positions.

Think of it this way – a volunteer donates their time and effort into furthering your cause. Volunteers are motivated by the joy of the work and the collective impact of volunteer efforts. Volunteers who are intrinsically motivated will be very much turned off by an unpleasant coordinator.

Personality traits to be cautious of include passive aggressiveness, a quick temper, inconsistency between what they say and what they do, and tendencies toward blame rather than accountability.

It can be difficult to spot any of these qualities during an interview, when they are (hopefully) at their most behaved. This is where references come in handy. As previous employers how this person behaved under pressure or in stressful environments.

On the flip side, look for strengths and skills that shine through in their personality. Are they welcoming and understanding, yet firm when needed? How well do they listen?

All this said, give your volunteer coordinator room to have an authentic personality – their own, beautiful, unique magic! Speaking from experience, I’ve personally continued volunteering at organizations much longer than intended, just because my volunteer coordinator was the glowing sun personified.

Well-Organized

A volunteer coordinator can be perfect in every way, but if they are not organized, they might soon be overwhelmed by the commotion of the job.

Generally, volunteer coordinators are responsible for creating programs for volunteers, recruiting volunteers, orientation schedules, applicant tracking, shift scheduling, on-site leadership, and more.

With so many moving parts to the job, it’s important to look for signs of orderliness in behaviors. Do they keep a personal calendar? Do they show up promptly and on-time when expected? How are their email exchanges – sporadic or reliable? What is their familiarity with basic data management (not necessarily a requirement, but a huge perk!). Do they enjoy multi-tasking, or do they prefer to focus on one priority at a time? (There are no right answers to that question, but pay attention to their reasoning behind their answer.)

As mentioned before, volunteer coordinators are a critical team member of any growing, volunteer-powered nonprofit. Pull all the stops to keep them happy, well supported, and doing their best work. Sometimes, that means giving them the right tools and resources (and coffee…don’t forget the coffee).

So, full disclosure, this is where I recommend VolunteerLocal for easy, intuitive, organized volunteer management. For the peace of my own conscience, I should explain that my recommendation is more than just a plug.

At VolunteerLocal, we work with numerous clients transitioning from mega-monster spreadsheets and folders to our streamlined, web-based platform. My recommendation stems from the favorite part of my job – when I hear a volunteer coordinator’s sigh of relief (followed fast by celebration). Request a free 1:1 demo any time you like. We’ll be glad to share the magic with your team.

There are many other qualities you might be looking for in a new team member, but these four are what many organizations consider “core” to the new volunteer coordinator’s success in the role. I wish you the very best of luck finding that new team member. They’re sure to be a dynamic addition to the organization.

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5 Resources to Build Resilience in Crisis

Only a matter months ago, many of us had different expectations for the months and years ahead. Thinking back to early March, the gravity of the COVID-19 crisis was just beginning to dawn on our families, friends, and communities. We prepared ourselves to be patient, careful, and committed to riding out the storm.

Months later now, many of us are exhausted by the storm. We’ve been “at it” for months and have hardly any more clarity about what lies ahead of us than we did at the start. Under these conditions, we’re learning how difficult it is, and — in equal measure — how critical it is to practice healthy, sustainable relationships with ourselves, our social groups (socially distanced), and our communities at large. At this point in time, we must look to adding one more tool to our crisis toolkit: resilience.

Let’s examine this first from a technical lens (definitions), root ourselves in the reality of this word (a social critique), then finally circle home to the application of this word in times of crisis (resources for building resilience in times of prolonged crisis).

Resilience, by definition, is “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”. Resilience is the ability (in many cases, the privilege) to be mentally, emotionally, and physically elastic to outside stressors, such as difficult change or trauma.

We must acknowledge that resilience is more than a “muscle”, or a private reserve that we all have within us, ready to be activated and strengthened with practice. Resilience, for many, isn’t a “nice to have”, it’s a “must have” in order to live a functional life in systematically challenging conditions. Examples of this include communities facing ongoing challenges posed by poverty, racism, discrimination, marginalization, homelessness, and more. The requirement of resilience to live is a glaring flaw in our social systems, and one that cannot go unnoticed in a narrower discussion of resilience in pandemic-related crisis.

Here we are, about half a year into quarantining, social distancing, disinfecting, and virtual solutioning. Some of us are hurting, some of us are restless. Most of us are, in some shape or form, exhausted. None of us wish for the world to continue in this way, but without a clear end in sight, we must determine how we, ourselves, will continue.

So now, to deliver on the promise made in the title: resources to build resilience in times of crisis. Below are resources you may explore to find what resilience looks like for you and your family. It takes many shapes — from mindsets to practices. I hope you find something true to you, to give you the strength needed to continue charging forward.


“A Psychologist’s Science-Based Tips for Emotional Resilience During the Coronavirus Crisis” by Jelena Kecmanovic

This wellness article in The Washington Post delivers the tangible take-aways we need, backed by research. A tip that I particularly appreciated was “reflect, relate and reframe.” In fact, this practice plays in well with other key points in the resources to follow — specifically, it relates to the exercise of guiding our attention toward the positive rather than the negative, which is where our attention often rests by default.

Read the full article here.

Know Your Natural Strengths

Many employers and universities are familiar with the StrengthsFinder assessment. The results of the assessment indicate your top strengths or skills, categorized generally by the following verticals: executing, relationship building, influencing, and strategic thinking.

Know you strengths so that you may leverage them. In times of crisis, many of us wonder if we are good enough, or doing enough. Considering this, it’s important to quiet those thoughts with more affirming ones: I am capable, I am competent, I am good at…[insert your top strengths here].

Once you know your strengths, develop confidence in them. Then leverage your strengths to get yourself and your loved ones through these difficult times.

Take a free version of the StrengthsFinder test here.

TED Talk by Susan Henkels: What if There’s Nothing Wrong With You

Watch the TED Talk here or below:

“This presentation is a discovery toward what’s in the way of having the life you deserve and an easier and more fun way of getting there. You will find ways of releasing judgment and criticism of yourself, begin to consider forgiveness of yourself and others, start making wiser choices, and expand your passion for contribution. Asking the question: What if there’s nothing wrong with you?…can become an ongoing practice for life.”

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Book description: “Pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth shows anyone striving to succeed—be it parents, students, educators, athletes, or business people—that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls ‘grit.'”

Read more about Angela Duckworth and her book here.

Watch the TED Talk she delivered about the topic here.

Freakonomics Podcast: Ep. 422

Episode 422 – “Introducing ‘No Stupid Questions'”

Listen on Apple PodcastsStitcherGoogle PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Read the transcript here.

Co-hosts Stephen Dubner and Angela Duckworth discuss the relationship between age and happiness from the lens of psychology and stages of life and development. A key take away here: attention matters. Where you focus your attention (on the positive or negative) influences the perspective of your well-being.

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How to Respond to Volunteer Burnout & Loss of Interest

It is fun and exciting when you have a lot of motivated volunteers who have fun and work well together. Over time, you might notice that some volunteers are losing interest and that your team is showing some changes.

Most volunteers get involved because they are passionate about your cause and want to make a difference in the world. With this in mind, what led to the volunteer losing interest or becoming burnt out? And, what can you do to stop this from happening or to get the volunteer reengaged? It is important to identify and address these signs before they become damaging and lead to losing a valued volunteer. In this article, we have identified some signs to look for and possible ways to address them.

Signs that a volunteer might be losing interest or getting burned out:
The volunteer is cynical or negative when they used to be positive.
The volunteer shows anger or frustration more easily.
The volunteer seems to have lost enjoyment in the act of volunteering.
The volunteer shows distinctive changes in personality.
The volunteer was outgoing and is now more standoffish.
The volunteer starts confiding that they are feeling overwhelmed by the work, especially if they previously found it manageable.
Changes in reliability or productivity of the volunteer.
Changes in responsiveness from the volunteer.


Possible reasons why a volunteer is losing interest or becoming burnt out:
The volunteer has feelings of ineffectiveness and/or lack of accomplishment.
The volunteer does not feel like their work is having an impact.
The volunteer has not been given a specific task or role.
The volunteer has not been asked to give their opinion.
The volunteer feels that their personal life is not being respected.
The volunteer was not thanked or acknowledged for their service or contribution.
The volunteer has too much on their plate.
The volunteer is having trouble dealing with difficult emotions and/or situations that they’re encountering while volunteering

Strategies to combat loss of interest and burn out:
The best strategy to keep volunteers interested and avoid burnout is by making sure volunteers and their managers have great working relationships and open communication. Paying attention to and looking out for the signs we listed above is a great place to start. Engaging with and getting to know your volunteers is an important step in being successful with not only volunteer retention, but also being able to identify any volunteer issues. By watching for uncharacteristic behaviors in your volunteers, you may be able to solve issues before they become a problem.

Starting with open communication right when volunteers first sign up is the easiest way to implement this strategy. You should be honest about what the work will entail. You should also be upfront if the work will be emotionally challenging or may involve difficult and/or challenging situations. It is also important to be honest if a volunteer’s expectations do not fit the reality of the role they want to fill. Not doing so could lead to frustration and disappointment for you and the volunteer.

Another component of communication that can help to avoid loss of interest is to schedule regular check-ins with volunteers to ask how they are feeling about the work and solve any issues that they might be experiencing. Listen carefully to what they have to say and make any changes that you are able to. If they express that they are feeling overwhelmed or burnt out, lighten their load or suggest that they try a different job.

Equally important is helping them realize their impact and the ways they are making a difference. Change is not always obvious and can take a long time. If you can share the story of their work, what it means to your organization, how it contributes to your mission and how it affects the community, they will feel like they are accomplishing their goal of making a difference. Otherwise, they may not get this information and may start to feel like they are ineffective or wasting their time.

Providing appropriate training sessions for your volunteers can also help avoid loss of interest. Making sure that the volunteers know exactly what to expect and giving them clear direction will help to make the volunteer feel valued and confident. Try to be flexible as possible regarding volunteer scheduling and respect their time. Try to be understanding if someone has to cancel or change their shift. We have all had last minute things come up. A good strategy is to provide some guidelines outlining what to do if a volunteer needs to cancel or reschedule a shift. This will make it clear that you are respecting that they are volunteering their free time.

Handling volunteers who have lost interest or are burned out:
Even if you have great communication and take preventative measures, loss of interest can still happen. If it does, and the volunteer lets you know, it is important to listen and be sensitive to what the volunteer is going through. This can go a long way in helping to keep them from feeling negative about their time volunteering or your organization. It may even lead them to come back when their circumstances have changed. If possible, ask what led them to become uninterested or burnt out. The information they provide could help you to improve your strategies and avoid loss of additional volunteers in the future.

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Sparking Motivation in a Team That May Be Feeling Discouraged

Volunteers are the lifeblood of many organizations, who without the generous donation of time, would otherwise not be able to hold events or operate successfully. Keeping volunteers motivated can be challenging, even outside of a pandemic environment. Motivation differs from person to person, so applying different techniques may help you identify what works best for your group of volunteers.  We have put together a list of 8 tips that you can use to help motivate volunteers.

1.  Communication – goes both ways 

Motivating new volunteers or returning volunteers requires good communication. Great communication will help them feel like they are knowledgeable about your organization and how they are contributing. Repeatedly sharing information about the purpose of the support work the volunteers will be helping with is a great way to create motivation. Volunteers need a sense of direction, especially if they are a new volunteer.

Listening is an equally important part of communication. Make sure to provide opportunities for volunteers to speak up with thoughts and ideas and to provide them support. Being able to listen to volunteer concerns and support them is especially important right now while we are all making compromises and working through changes.

Socialization is also a big part of volunteering and is an important motivator. Social distancing is having a great impact on this area for all of us right now. Have a space (even virtually) where volunteers can meet, communicate, socialize and motivate each other. 

2. Respect – instruction and organization

Volunteers are giving up their free time to help, which should be recognized and respected. It goes without saying that respect builds trust, empathy and dedication. Communication also goes a long way to building respect. During this time, where many events are being cancelled or postponed, clearly and promptly communicating plans and details to your volunteers shows that you respect their time and feelings. 

When events do take place, making sure to set up stations where workers can provide their services easily, safely and without frustration is an important part of building respect. You can do this by making sure that they know where to go, they know their shift details and that they have the necessary tools, check-lists and supplies needed to complete their shift. Respect is also shown through pairing volunteers with jobs that use their skills well. Asking simple questions on the registration form can help to ensure that you pair the right person with the right job. 

3. Be available – show that you are motivated

Being accessible to your volunteers shows that you are motivated and passionate about your organization. Volunteers should have an easy time getting a hold of the right people and should feel comfortable reaching out. If they are not able to easily get questions answered, or concerns heard, they may lose interest and not show up or volunteer with your organization again.

One easy way to let volunteers know you are available is to check in with them from time to time. Right now, holding online video chats or happy hours is a fun way to keep in touch and provide a platform to keep everyone motivated.  

4. Recognition – acknowledge achievements

Volunteers do not usually volunteer their time to get recognition. That does not mean that recognition is not a huge part of creating motivation. Everyone likes to be acknowledged for contributions or a job well done.

In the workplace, positive feedback is the number one motivator.  This carries through for most areas of our lives. Some people do not like to be singled out and can be embarrassed by direct recognition in front of others. Praise can also be given with a team focus/team mindset. Individuals are often very responsive to team praise because they are aware of how they are affecting a whole team effort, and the part they have played in that success. 

Another way to provide recognition, is to personally thank volunteers. Thank you notes and emails are one way to do this. Personalizing the thank you message to each volunteer lets them know that you are specifically acknowledging them. This may seem like a daunting task, but think how great it feels when you receive a personalized thank you. Recognition can motivate volunteers to keep volunteering for your organization, to recruit others and to continue to produce great results. 

5. Rewards – extra perks!

While we know that volunteers are not volunteering their time to get a reward, rewards and perks can go a long way in attracting new volunteers and help to keep volunteers coming back. They can be a great motivator!

If you have a budget for it, sending long time volunteers or leaders to a conference or training can be a very motivating reward. Many conferences are at resorts or offer a vacation type get-away. Volunteers would get to attend interesting seminars, workshops, activities and have great networking opportunities. Attendees leave filled with motivation and ideas that will benefit your organization. Not everyone has the budget to send volunteers to conferences or to provide swag, but there are also some simple, low-cost or free things you could do. 

Some successful ideas we have heard:

  • Give volunteers certain hours or exclusive access to your event or vouchers for a VIP area. 
  • Certificates of achievement
  • Buttons, pins or plaques
  • Ribbons
  • Outstanding volunteer rewards for each job/area
  • Free food and beverage
  • T-shirts
  • Bandanas
  • Sweat bands
  • Hats
  • Custom wristbands
  • Reusable bags

6. Build team spirit – create a competition or challenge

Build a sense of motivation within your team by creating a space where they can get to know each other and feel more comfortable. The more team spirit created, the more comfortable the volunteers will feel. This will help them to motivate each other and look forward to future volunteer opportunities together. 

You could host a gathering allowing new and returning volunteers to get to know each other or organize a competition or challenge (these can also be done virtually). One example of a challenge could be to reward current volunteers who recruit the most new volunteers. You could have different prize levels, so that multiple volunteers have a chance to win. 

7. Training – motivate through knowledge

Hosting online initial and continual training opportunities can encourage development and motivation. Volunteers want to maximise the contribution they make but many receive limited training before or after they volunteer. Even a small amount of training can give volunteers a better understanding of their role, better direction within their role, help them to be more excited about their volunteering opportunity and motivate them to better themselves. We have a quick guide to training volunteers available, if you would like more detailed information.

8. Have fun – play is a great motivator

Volunteering can sometimes be stressful and cause a loss in motivation. People who feel like they are part of a group that they can have fun with will be motivated to return and spend more of their time with that group.

Important causes and goals that we are passionate about can sometimes become too serious and we forget the fun element. Before and between your events, try hosting some purely fun events. Of course, this is easier to do when we are not socially distancing, but there are some great virtual options. We have already mentioned online group chats or happy hours, but here are some additional ideas:

  • Online trivia night 
  • Online karaoke 
  • Online board or other types of games 
  • Host a watch party with live music or movies. 
  • Host a live “how to” with a guest who shows how to cook or craft something. 


Keeping connected is the most important step in keeping volunteers motivated. Be creative and have fun with it.

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Risks of Under-Managed Volunteers

As a volunteer coordinator, you may wonder – does all of my hustle and effort amount to much? The short answer: absolutely! The longer answer: the success of your volunteer program depends on proper volunteer management.

Without strong volunteer management you face the following risks: 

Volunteers don’t do their jobs – Plain and simple, if a volunteer isn’t clear about the task at hand or isn’t given direction, they can’t best perform their assigned tasks. That might trigger a chain reaction of loose ends, participants/patrons not getting what they are promised, and staff running around trying to fill in the gaps.

Poor representation of the organization – If volunteers don’t know what they’re doing, it will show. Instead of fulfilling their volunteer role without a hitch as hoped, they might instead make things more confusing and frustrate attendees. Your volunteers and their interactions with guests, participants, and patrons reflect on your organization – for better or worse.

Lack of volunteer retention – When a volunteer feels mismanaged or like they are wasting their time, they won’t come back. What’s worse, they might discourage their peers from volunteering in the future as well. You might find yourself spending more time recruiting new volunteers than strengthening and empowering your existing volunteer base.

Unhappy boss – If volunteers aren’t being managed properly, it is likely going to come back to you in one way or another. If you feel overwhelmed by the amount you have on your plate, make sure you equip yourself with the right tools to lighten the load (VolunteerLocal has your back!) and communicate with the right people to get the support you need along the way. 

Reflecting on this list, it is clear that there are many consequences of under-managed volunteers. This is one of many reasons why your role as a volunteer coordinator matters greatly! Your ability to lead, organize, and manage your volunteer program is what will keep everything running smoothly.

Get ahead of these potential problems by creating a plan of action for each new volunteer that joins the team. Identify their training process and their daily responsibilities. Schedule check-ins, and give volunteers proper resources to excel at their responsibilities. Finally, if a volunteer leaves the program unexpectedly, reach out with care and compassion to learn how the program could be improved. With these strategies (and your own special magic), volunteers will feel well managed, fulfilled, and happy to return each day.

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