For the past couple of weeks I have been writing about how leaders within nonprofit organizations can keep their volunteers long-term. Today’s post focuses on how leaders of volunteers can keep volunteers at their organization by continually connecting the volunteers’ work with the cause and purpose of the nonprofit organization.

It is essential, in both theory and practices, that volunteers experience a feeling of engagement or an energetic and affective connect with their work. Rather than seeing it as stressful and demanding, they should view it as challenging, interesting, and enjoyable. If so, they will feel good about themselves and committed to their organizations. This is an ethical strategy for nonprofit organizations to use to retain volunteers over the long term and a possible way for volunteers to feel happier and for society to improve.
Vecina and Chacon, “Volunteer Engagement and Organizational Commitment,” p. 300

Continually Connect Volunteers Work with the Cause

Photo Credit: Adam Fletcher


A. Volunteers Volunteer Because:

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An essential part of ensuring volunteers stay at a nonprofit organization long-term is helping volunteers serve in areas that they are motivated and skilled.

My wife once went to work at a local Homeless Gospel Mission near where we lived. As someone with a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and a master’s degree in Social Work she was excited to use some of her skills to help counsel, encourage, and support clients of the Gospel Mission. However, after my wife had clearly explained her professional experience and ideal area for volunteering to the volunteer coordinator, my wife was placed in the waiting room of the Gospel Mission where she was supposed to talk and just “hang out” with clients. Every time she showed up she was expected to randomly walk up to clients who were waiting to receive services and talk. No formal introduction was given from the Gospel Mission for my wife, no support from the staff about what my wife was supposed to do, and no understanding of the skills my wife had and what she could offer.

Do you think my wife continued volunteering for long? Of course not! She left only a week or two after she realized this Gospel Mission was not using her skills and experience in a way to help clients.

Most of the time people are willing to jump in and help a good cause even if the work is something that is uninteresting to them. However, if you want to have volunteers stay and serve for a long period of time you have to find ways to place your volunteers in areas they are motivated and skilled.

Energy flows from passion. A God-given passion—an area of intense interest—lies buried within each of us. One of the goals of volunteer experimentation is to discover that passion. Connecting our spiritual gift with an area of passion is the key to ultimate effectiveness and fulfillment in serving. It’s also one of the keys to maintaining energy when serving. When you are serving an area of passion, nobody has to fire you up to stay involved; you can’t help but show up. It feels like recess, when the bell rings and you get to do your favorite thing.
Bill Hybels, The Volunteer Revolution, pp. 81-82

In today’s post I show you some basic ways you can get your volunteers plugged into areas that they are passionate and skilled.


Volunteers need to be placed in areas that they are passionate to serve. You can find volunteers passion either by the area in which the volunteers serve or the task which the volunteers do. Continue Reading…

When leading volunteers and hoping to keep them you need to find ways to increase their commitment to your organization. There are lots of great nonprofit organizations in your community that volunteers can give their time to. The issue that comes up is whether or not the volunteers are going to give their time to your organization.

In this post I share some research I read about how to increase the commitment of volunteers to your organization and how you can use this idea to your advantage.


Organizational Commitment is “identification and involvement with a specific organization, and assumes strong belief in, and acceptance of, its goals and values and the will to make considerable efforts as a member of the organization (Mowday, Steers, & Porter, 1979).” (Chaco, et. al., “Three-Stage Model of Volunteers’ Duration,” p. 629).

“Organizational commitment has been extensively studied within Organizational Psychology, as an essential variable related to employees’ satisfaction and organizational efficacy” (Ibid).



A. Contribute to the community/society
B. Contribute to the organization
C. Clear Instructions
D. Communication that Is Clear
E. Feeling Supported


How Motivations of Volunteers Change Over Time



If nonprofit organizations wish their volunteers to remain, then there must be a focus on developing a feeling of commitment to organizations.
Vecin and Chacon, “Volunteer Engagement and Organizational Commitment,” 299.

A. Create a Connection to Their Work.

Try to do things that help volunteers make a connection to the work being done. How does this work match the volunteers’ personality? Is this good work for an introverted volunteer to do (tasks done independently and silently). Or, is this good work for an extrovert to do (tasks done with others in a common area around people).

B. Connect them to the difference being made in the community.

Volunteers volunteer because they want to make a difference in the community and in a specific organization. Those are the two main reasons that anyone begins volunteering. Therefore, to increase the organizational committment of your volunteer long-term help volunteers see that the work they are doing makes a difference in the community.

C. Connect them to the difference the volunteer is making for your individual organization.

Try to actively tell stories, share experiences, and provide statistics for how your organization is making a difference in the community. And, tie that information into how the volunteer is helping the organization to make this difference in the community.

D. Make the experience fun.

All things being equal: volunteers chose and stick with the volunteer position that is fun.

E. Provide:

1. task variety
2. challenge
3. excitement
4. independence
5. insider status
6. the ability to use existing skills
7. opportunity to make career contacts
8. opportunity to make new friends (“More Than Motivation,” 401)
9. fun
10. food
11. unique training

Question: How do you think you can increase the organizational commitment among your volunteers?

During our regular Campaign Coordinators’ Meeting at United Way we had struggled to have a good meeting on this particular day. We had started a little late, not always stuck to the prearranged agenda, and the meeting ran a little longer than I had planned for it to go. As a result, there was a volunteer who had some suggestions for how to better run the meetings.

As a result, at the end of the meeting Joe (not his real name) spoke up and said that he hoped that the future meetings of this Campaign Coordinator’s Council could be more productive. Mainly, he hoped that we could start on time, identify some things to research, and end on time. It was a little awkward to have him suggest these things in front of the entire meeting, but we as staff of United Way agreed that we might be able to take his suggestions in.

And, the way that Joe shared his thoughts led me to think that if we didn’t attempt to implement some of his changes, then he might not stick with our organization and might stop coming to the meetings.

I was the staff person in charge of this volunteer-led committee of Campaign Coordinators. So, I called Joe on the phone and told him, “Hi Joe, you have provided some ideas and suggestions for how to improve our Campaign Coordinator’s Council. Mei Mi Nu–our former chair of this committee–has served for a year and we are now looking for a replacement. Joe, would  you like to serve as our Campaign Coordinator’s Council chair for the next year and therefore implement your ideas?” Joe’s response was “yes.” He was grateful that we had heard his thoughts about how to make improvements and he was glad to be placed in a position where he could implement his ideas.

Going forward I meet with Joe every month one-to-one where we would simply talk, share ideas, and let me plan out our Campaign Coordinator’s Council meetings. As a result, Joe spent the next year and a half as our Campaign Coordinator. In that time he took our group through much of the training he had received as some certified as a “Black Belt” in the “Lean Six Sigma” material.

For the next two years we receive numerous trainings in how to use Six Sigma to evaluate our work, see weaknesses, identify recurring problems, seek solutions, and build systems to improve the way we did things. As a result of Joe’s trainings the United Way staff and our volunteers were able to receive thousands of dollars worth of trainings about Lean Six Sigma. Additionally, as a result of me listening to Joe’s ideas and providing him a chance to implement those ideas he provided us with help to do make those ideas happen. So, he didn’t just provide ideas of things that should have been done, but he provided the resources to make sure those ideas were implement (with our permission, of course). As an example is that when Joe wanted us to revamp our Campaign Kickoff event we were going to need some large partitions. When that need came up he said, “Don’t worry about renting those, we have those at work.” When the Campaign Kickoff event came Jim’s work did not have the partitions, they had paid for those partitions to be rented!

The point with this story is when you listen to volunteers’ voices you get to see them take charge of items and they stick with them. And, when you listen to a volunteer’s voice you help ensure that they will stick with your organization long term.

Among the research I found when developing a class about how to keep volunteers at nonprofit organizations was about how to listen to volunteers’ voices. Listening to volunteers’ voice is one thing that anyone can do in any nonprofit organization and that can increase the likelihood that a volunteer will continue volunteering.


“If volunteers are involved in the planning and the evaluation of their jobs and of the total volunteer program, they have a much greater commitment to it. All too frequently they are forced to work in a vacuum, with little information or no influence on how their jobs fit into the whole. This commitment to you is often in direct correlation to your commitment to them. The same is of course true for paid staff” (Marlene Wilson, The Effective Management of Volunteer Programs, 63).

“Related to the sense of the significance of their work is the volunteers’ feeling that they are appreciated and influencing their coworkers and the job situation: that their suggestions and ideas are being used, that they are invited to join in planning and policy thinking, and that they are trusted to take on more and more responsibility” (The Volunteer Community, p. 56).


A. Have volunteers Sit in on Regular:

1. meetings
2. committees
3. program and service planning

B. Have Volunteers Help Plan Services


A. Through Evaluations

“One opportunity to promote voice is through volunteer evaluations” (Allen and Mueller, “The Revolving Door,” p. 150).

B. Through Staff and Team Meetings

“Another opportunity to promote voice is through weekly or monthly volunteer team meetings” (Ibid).

Meetings contain the following elements that can increase voice:

1. resolving conflicts
2. solving problems
3. generating innovative ideas
4. decision making
5. a time for volunteers to voice their concerns (Ibid)

A positive and productive culture within an organization is a must if the organization is going to be successful. Most people have been part of organizations where people are focused on keeping the status-quo, watching their backs, attempting to move up the hierarchic ladder, etc.

I believe that culture within nonprofit organizations is especially important because of the focus on serving others. If the culture is not built around good teamwork and helping other people within the organization, then there will not be success in serving clients and the needs of the community.How to Keep Your Best Volunteers by Creating a Great Culture

If you regularly lead volunteers and want to ensure that your best volunteers continue volunteering for you, then read and follow the steps I have listed below. These steps show you how to cultivate a positive culture and experience for the volunteers at your organization.

How do we attract and retain the best and the brightest [volunteers] when the culture is one of dispute, contentiousness, and rarely of the sacred nature of the work in which they are engaged?
Jeff Solomon and Richard Wexler, “Standards for Volunteer Leadership,” p. 9

One of the primary reasons for either the slow decay or quick demise of many volunteer programs is a lack for staff acceptance and support. Volunteers can only work effectively as part of a team. The other part of that team is paid staff. If volunteers are rejected as legitimate co-workers, both morale and performance suffers irreparably.
Marlene Wilson, The Effective Management of Volunteer Programs, p. 152

But there’s something else that keeps me coming back week after week in my limited free time. It begins when I walk through the door, and everyone is visibly happy to see me. The warmth I feel when I walk into the room erases any trace of a stressful day. . . Volunteering has provided me with an opportunity to feel the way I did as a camp counselor years ago: like I’m making a difference. But the people I volunteer with are making a difference in my life, too, by welcoming, accepting and challenging me week after week. And once again I couldn’t be happier.
Max Martinelli, “Making Time to Make a Difference”


A. Definition for Volunteer Coordinators

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In almost ten years of experience leading volunteers I have noticed several reasons that volunteers quit volunteering for an organization. Some reasons seem obvious, some reasons do not. Sometimes volunteers do not want to quit but they have to because of personal obligations, sometimes volunteers want to quit but they don’t because they feel obligated to the organization they volunteer for.

10 Reasons Why Your Last Volunteer Might Have Quit

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In today’s post I share 9 reasons why volunteers often quit volunteering for nonprofit organization.


A. 58 percent of volunteers did not continue volunteering because of time restrictions from:

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When leading volunteers how do you know whether you should equip, delegate, or empower them? What is the difference between equipping, delegation, and empowerment?

How to Delegate, Empower, and Equip Volunteers

In today’s post I share why you should equip all volunteers, delegate to most volunteers, and empower only a few.

I. Equipping

A. Definition

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Every week when our volunteer Alan came into the office I would provide work for him to do. Normally I would bring the work to him at his desk when he arrived and provide clear instructions about what needed to be done, when it needed to be done, what to do if he had questions, etc. However, on this day I was particularly busy and simply set work on his desk for him to start doing when he arrived instead of my taking time to walk to his desk and instruct him about what needed to be done.

What I did not know is that a coworker spent an entire day carefully sorting the names and information of donor pledge forms into a special order so that the forms could be processed into the computer. So, when Alan arrived and saw a stack of 200 pieces of paper on his desk (donor pledge forms) he did what he was always instructed to do with paper placed on this desk: separate the the pieces of paper that had printing on one side from the pieces of paper that had printing on both sides.

I had walked over to Alan’s desk to check on him when I noticed that he was sorting out pledge forms and not doing the work I had placed on his desk. Alan had undone about a day’s worth of work that one of our staff had done. Ouch! All of this headache could have been avoided if I had taken time to walk over to Alan’s desk and provide him clear instructions as soon as he had arrived.

How to Always Provide Crystal Clear InstructionsIn today’s post I am going to provide you nine simple steps you can follow to provide crystal clear instructions when leading volunteers at your church or nonprofit organizations.

The shortcut path of just simply handing volunteer Dave an assignment is fraught with pitfalls. One or two “what am I supposed to be doing, exactly” and “who’s in charge here” and poof! Dave falls off the rope bridge into the piranha infested river of “I quit” below.
Meridian, “There Are No Shortcuts

Volunteer managers operate with clarity. We know we will not keep volunteers if messages and instructions are not clear, so we frame every instruction so that it is clear. We know that muddied messages can ruin a volunteer experience and cause the volunteer to quit.
Meridian, “Management 601

I. Know what, how, and when it needs to be done and who can (can’t) do the work.

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Effective leaders know how to connect well with people, listen, resolve conflict, and speak in a way that others can understand. Not everyone is able to do this.

In the context of nonprofit work and church ministry the skills I’ve listed above are even more important since most of the people being led are volunteers. Because of this, leaders need to be extremely good at motivating, guiding, and encouraging the people they lead within their nonprofit or church.

Those intangible skills of leadership can be categorized into what is called “Emotional Intelligence.” In today’s post I share what Emotional Intelligence is and how you can use it to be a better leader.

How to Use Emotional Intelligence When Leading Volunteers

Photo Credit: Tristan Martin

I. What is IQ?

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Leading volunteers is a unique deal. The leader has authority and influence over people without any real ability to enforce that authority or influence. Most volunteers arrive at a nonprofit organization in order to help, and if you are like me you have probably showed up a nonprofit organization and discovered that your passion for making a difference is not matched by the staff you interacted with. Like me, you probably felt discouraged and sensed a lack of passion from the nonprofit staff.

Why You Must Have Passion When Leading Volunteers

Photo Credit: Chris Lasher

In today’s post I show how nonprofit volunteer coordinators can show passion for what they do. And, more importantly, I am going to show how they can use their passion to lead others more effectively.

I. Sell yourself to the volunteers as a passionate leader for the work you do.

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