Making the Most of your Volunteers

1st October 2019

Admin

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How should you manage your volunteers in a way that maximises their impact with your organisation and makes them want to stick around?

Over the years I have worked with volunteers in lots of different contexts. I found that when volunteers are pigeonholed into doing one simple task, or worse yet, left standing around waiting for a task, they can feel pretty useless. 

This blog focuses on championing your volunteers, giving a greater purpose to their volunteering and keeping them motivated, and happy. 

There’s no need for you to feel guilty giving volunteers a lot of responsibility, that’s exactly what they’re there for. They relish responsibility; it makes for fulfilled and loyal volunteers.

Understand the volunteer’s motivations

Volunteer

Before you decide on the task list, it’s helpful to know why a person is volunteering. This will help you give the right tasks to the right people.

You’ll be surprised at their answers. 

  • Perhaps they share a passion with your organisation’s vision. 
  • Maybe they have some free time and your organisation is close to where they live. 
  • Maybe they’re looking to ramp up their professional skills.

In the short term, this is great. Knowing the WHY will help you organise each person into the RIGHT tasks. 

In the long term, this is a must. Would you want to show up never knowing what you’ll be doing, or that you will have to do all the menial tasks someone else doesn’t want to do. If you switch up their tasks every time they volunteer, you will exhaust them and they will leave.

Instead, give them tasks or an ongoing role that plays to their passion and strengths. This will make them excited about volunteering every single time they show up.

You can understand a volunteers’ motivations through an effective application and interview process, see our Blog on the 6 steps to Recruiting Volunteers. Invest some time providing a good induction where a manager spends time listening and learning from the volunteer. 

Build your volunteer profiles

Groop is ideally placed to hold all the information you need on your volunteers, in one central place safely and securely. And of course, with easy access to everyone who has the right permissions. 

On the platform you will also be able to add all the volunteers’ needs and profile information – from time available, whether they can drive and their current DBS certificate to what impact they are making and how many hours they have volunteered. 

Identify all the possible activities

What unique skills do your volunteers have and what can they teach you? 

This may seem like a given, but wait, you may not have thought of everything… 

Yes, there are the obvious tasks that you might need a volunteer for, but remember volunteers are passionate AND smart. Maybe some of the tasks that you do on a regular basis can be given to a volunteer instead – if they are interested and you can provide adequate training. 

 For example, some of the tasks I do as a volunteer may surprise you.

  • I’ve sent out and responded to emails on behalf of the website admin
  • I’ve helped create induction training 
  • I’ve actually used some of my volunteering time to teach assertiveness to other volunteers and staff 

All of these tasks play to my specific skill set and made me feel valued and most importantly made an impact on and for the organisation I was volunteering for. 

Set tasks

In as much detail as possible, list all the tasks a volunteer will need to undertake. Put it into a task description and ensure they have a copy (a digital one preferably!) 

  • Highlight areas that are really important
  • Give them tips on how to get a head start
  • Make them aware of typical problems that arise and what to do
  • Include a phone number on their list in case they run into any major roadblocks and really need help

Set goals

Always state the impact you are hoping to achieve through their input.

Doing this will ensure your volunteers stay on track and can make decisions on the spot from unforeseen circumstances. There’s nothing worse than a volunteer running into a simple roadblock, and then spending the next fifteen minutes trying to find the volunteer coordinator for help on what to do. 

For example: If you need someone to check-in visitors, don’t just give them a list of all those expected, also give them what a great outcome would look like…

Include things like, “every guest should feel welcomed and receive a personal touch” rather than, “say hi to every guest”. 

The difference between someone who’s told to make sure they say “hi” and someone who’s told to make sure every guest feels welcomed is huge – “Hi” is a task. “Feel welcomed” is the impact.

You can also give your volunteers responsibility over their domain and trust them to make the right decisions. There will always be super boring tasks to give out, like filing paperwork or stacking chairs. In these cases, tell the volunteer upfront that when they are finished, you’d like to hear their ideas on improving the process. Suddenly a boring task becomes a stimulating problem. You’ll be surprised at how many bright solutions they come up with that you certainly didn’t have time to think about.

Designate a time for volunteers to meet each other 

Set time

We know that feeling part of a community is very important to helping volunteers to connect with those in an organisation. It’s an effective way to build your volunteer community. 

Set up tables and chairs for your volunteers with water, coffee, snacks, and extra notepads, pens, name tags, and any other nice touches.

This is also a great place for your volunteers to mingle and get to know each other, plus it makes your volunteers feel more at home. Instead of standing around awkwardly between tasks, they’ll have somewhere to go. 

You could also match volunteers together, which might give you unexpected outcome and impacts. 

  • Put an existing volunteer with a fresh one
  • Put an analytical volunteer with a musical one
  • Put a student volunteer with a corporate/experienced one

Your volunteers will be able to solve problems faster when they have different skills. They’ll also meet new people, try new things, and feel more engaged.

Know your role 

Your role in all of this is to step back and watch from above. 

You put the time and effort into recruiting a dream volunteer team, don’t do all the work for them. I’ve seen some volunteer organisers end up doing half the volunteer work, taking your attention away from the bigger picture.

Allow your volunteers to take the lead in each of the areas you’ve given them. 

Reward

Reward

For you, reward comes in everything running smoothly and creating a standout team of accountable, impactful and loyal volunteers.

For your volunteers, reward comes in the form of developing their skills, enjoying themselves, and knowing/seeing they’ve made a difference.

Not all volunteers will be able to get face time with your members/participants, or praise from your users. Those that do though will feel great. Those who don’t, need to see the reward from elsewhere.

Don’t forget that tireless volunteer in the background, baking cookies all night, or the volunteer who helped with answering the phones. These people need recognition too.

If you really want to make your volunteers feel valued, work hard, and become loyal to your organisation, you could try this:

Tell them a story where they’re the hero. That is the best form of recognition you can give them. Everyone likes to feel appreciated and know they’ve made a difference. You need to show them how.

Tell them how you overheard two people talking about how delicious the cookies were, and someone even asked for the recipe? REMEMBER THAT STUFF! Tell it to the volunteer who made those cookies. 

And of course….

Say thank you 🙂

 

If you volunteer, run a charity or a CSR initiative or would like to find out more about how to move ahead with your volunteering plan or strategy, come along to our conference:

NEW APPROACHES TO VOLUNTEERING – DISRUPT INNOVATE CHANGE

It takes place on 21st November 2019 at Baden-Powell House, London.

Use the code GRJO10 to receive 10% off your tickets.