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Leveraging Your Volunteers’ Fullest Potential

Being a volunteer coordinator is not just about tracking volunteer hours. It’s also about being a leader and making sure you get the most out of those under your watch. With paid employees, there are often debates about whether extrinsic or intrinsic rewards are more motivating.  With volunteers, the mere fact that they aren’t paid tips the scales toward the intrinsic side. However,  it’s important to note that a simple pat on the back isn’t always enough. Below we take a look at some of the factors that cause volunteers to stay or leave and use them as a hints for what you can do to motivate volunteers to their fullest potential.

Why are they volunteering?

The easiest way to find out what motivates a volunteer is to ask. If this is not already a part of your screening for new volunteers, consider implementing it. As opposed to immediately trying to decide what volunteers can do for you, explore what theyVolunteer Potential want to get out of the time they donate. Perhaps the individual wants to grow his or her professional skill set. Without knowing this, the tendency is to put individuals in areas where they already have experience. If a volunteer is wanting to acquire new skills to list on a resume and you put him in a non-paid version of his day job, he isn’t as likely to go out of his way to do great work. Similarly, some volunteers just want a challenge. As long as they seem competent, let them have at it. Challenge seekers are already motivated. They just need a target — so provide them with one. Others are motivated by their contact with the population you serve. For instance, some folks just enjoy mentoring and coaching others. If they are good at it, give them as much face time as possible with your population and take administrative tasks off their hands. Perhaps then you can find another volunteer who wants to move into an administrative role and let him or her assist with those tasks.

Reward them

Sure, most volunteers are performing duties for one of the intrinsic reasons listed above, but that doesn’t mean they won’t work even harder for an incentive. Best of all, some of rewards don’t have to involve money or things. Gestures such as a special “volunteer of the month” parking spot or an extra-nice work space can incentivize a volunteer. Also, “promoting” loyal volunteers and giving them a supervisory role over other volunteers and maybe even a title can help. And it never hurts to give them something of value on occasion. Don’t be afraid to either ask for donations or discounts from area businesses that you can pass along to your volunteers. It doesn’t have to be an everyday give-away, but you might be surprised how hard people will work for a chance to win a decent prize on occasion.

Recognize them

The last motivational piece is that proverbial pat on the back. Most people love to be recognized in public, and once volunteers see one of their own congratulated, they often want to achieve as well. Make sure you publicly say thank you with an announcement at events and take the time to feature volunteers in your newsletter or other correspondences. A yearly volunteer appreciation party is also a nice touch. It provides a time when you can re-energize volunteers by giving them a chance to socialize with each other; demonstrating the progress your organization has made; and, most importantly, acknowledging how their donated hours have advanced your cause.

In the end, knowing what volunteers want out of their experience is the key to motivating them to function at their fullest capabilities. In the end, leveraging their need to grow and succeed will help both your volunteers and your organization.

Shawn Kendrick holds an MBA from Ohio Dominican University and writes for VolunteerHub, a cloud-based software that specializes in online volunteer management, including registering for volunteer opportunities, tracking volunteer hours, and more.

Headshot of Shawn Kendrick

About Shawn Kendrick

Shawn Kendrick holds an MBA from Ohio Dominican University and has over a decade’s experience in the nonprofit and business sectors. He enjoys researching and blogging for VolunteerHub, a cloud-based volunteer management system that offers online registration, email and text messaging, report generation, and much more.

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  1. From Colin Thacker says:

    You have made some valid comments Shawn about leveraging your volunteers’ fullest potential. I may add, in my 43 years as a coordinator of a volunteer program that making an agency’ s volunteers an inclusive part of the organization goes a long way towards having them reach their full potential. What I mean by inclusive is empowering volunteers and including them into the decision making process on matters that affect them particularly.
    When I first started off as volunteer engagement professional I received some kindly advice from a community leader. Remember Colin, the volunteer program is not yours; I found out later what he meant was a volunteer program has three stake holders; volunteers, clients and staff. It becomes incumbent upon us volunteer engagement practitioners to empower all three to work together as a team to develop the volunteer program. The volunteer engagement professional is there to coordinate.

  2. Corbit Harrison says:

    Great points Colin, thank you for sharing your experience and advise. I couldn’t agree more with your last paragraph as all stake holders are vital to any volunteer initiative.

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