Employee Engagement, Motivating Your Nonprofit Volunteers

February 26, 2016
5 minutes

Whether in a small office or a large nonprofit, your volunteers remain one of the most valuable assets in your organization.

In the U.S. alone, some 63 million people volunteer for organizations. They are our heroes, advocates, and champions. They are ambassadors and worker bees when needed. Your nonprofit receives a tremendous amount of skilled expertise, as volunteer roles fill many capacities. Everyone from board members, committee members, ushers, guides to admins, and more make up the diverse inclusivity of nonprofits.

Given that information, there will be times where nurturing will involve ways to motivate your teams to keep them engaged and show your nonprofit's appreciation.

Take A Step Back and Look at Your Volunteers from A Fresh Perspective

Before even beginning to think about motivation strategies, check your own assumptions at the door. Take a moment to consider all that a volunteer gives to your nonprofit in value. 

Let's look at an equivalency example to help understand volunteer value. If your nonprofit received $25,000 or more, this amount would be considered a major contribution. Many volunteers will give of themselves about 1000 hours per year of personal time to a nonprofit. 

Independent Sector completed a report on the value of volunteer services, and for 2018, it was stated as $25.43 per hour. For a great number of volunteers, this amounts to a $25,000 gift annually or over a few years, depending on the service.

If you took the time now to list your volunteers on a page with their logged hours and what a proper hourly pay would be, it sure makes a powerful case to consider investing in your volunteers.

The bottom line is it's best to treat your team as if they are staff members. Time donors require as much respect and ongoing support as paid staff and money donors. It may be just a "thank you" or making sure to engage with each one often. What motivates volunteers, aside from their commitment to the mission, is feeling appreciated and valued.

Consider Implementing a Volunteer Engagement Program

In larger nonprofit organizations, volunteer involvement is usually handled well below the top of the organization. It may be part of a lower department who took it on to keep an eye on the team. Strong, healthy volunteer programs should ideally be handled from the top.

In a nonprofit organization, volunteers need to be seen as critical to the management function of the organization. They need to be discussed in the boardroom and be a part of any long-term planning or other mission-critical interests.

If you are looking to get one up and running, give some thought to the following:

What motivates nonprofit volunteers?

  • They believe in the mission.
  • They want to learn new skills.
  • They want to have fun.
  • They want to meet new people.

Why do volunteers leave?

  • Underutilized
  • Unfavorable physical environment
  • Impersonal atmosphere, tense, cold
  • Suggestions not acted on
  • Didn't see or feel a connection
  • Too much of a clique amongst the older term volunteers
  • Employees treat them as an interruption

Consider a Volunteer Bill of Rights

  • Interviewing tool and discussion starter
  • Orientation tool for new volunteer
  • May alert you or the volunteer on what to expect

Make Time to Show Appreciation 

Major donors and volunteers should be treated the same. Volunteers have given their time, energy, and quite possibly funds as well to the organization. Daily stewardship goes a long way, so please practice it. 

While finding ways to recognize your volunteers is an endless pursuit, there are a few options that would work well regardless of what type of nonprofit your organization ascribes to.

  • Thank your volunteers. Good, now thank them again.
  • At least once a year, host a volunteer appreciation party.
  • Set up a photo booth at your party. Post the pics on your nonprofit's website, social media, or internally in the offices.
  • If the budget is low to nothing, try making videos about why volunteers are valuable. Put the videos together to show during a regularly scheduled volunteer meeting.
  • Handwritten notes go a long way today as they are rarely handed out. Write about how much you appreciate their efforts

Provide Your Volunteers with The Resources and Tools They Need

Aside from respect, volunteers need tools and resources to be successful. It could just be pens and paper, or a computer with updated software needed for the role. If this is possible, don't forget to provide training.

When a volunteer starts, it is critical they have a point person to help settle in and answer any questions. The point person should be able to help them adjust to their role and help improve the volunteer's skill set. 

In some cases, treating the volunteer to a performance evaluation treats them as equally as a coworker and makes them feel a bit closer to the organization.

Your Volunteers May Be Your Leaders Someday

It is not uncommon to see a volunteer stick to the nonprofit, and over time will come on board and eventually wind up as a senior or executive leader. Maintain open communication, listen to their suggestions, and offer constructive and supporting feedback whenever possible. If you cannot find an answer right away, follow up with a timely explanation as soon as possible.

Final Thoughts

Your volunteers are with you on purpose because they want to make a difference. Motivating them is easier than you may think. Give them space to grow and watch how those efforts cultivate others to contribute more as well. And don't forget to have fun!

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