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
Photo Credit: Adam Fletcher
I. VOLUNTEERS NEED TO MEET NEEDS
A. Volunteers Volunteer Because:
While doing some research last summer I read a bunch of journal articles which shared the various reasons that people volunteer for nonprofit organizations. I have distilled that research into the two main reasons.
1. Volunteers want to make a difference in society.
Volunteers want to make a difference in their neighborhood, cities, and in the world. This is the main reason volunteers donate their time and energy to nonprofit organizations.
2. Volunteers want to make a difference in an organization or specific cause.
The second motivation for volunteers to volunteer is a desire to help a specific organization or cause. This might be an organization that has helped someone the volunteers know. Or, the organization might provide services that volunteers have received in the past from another organization. Either way volunteers volunteer because they want to make a different in an organization or cause.
B. Always Emphasize How Your Volunteers Are Serving Others.
When volunteering sometimes it is easy for people to forget why they originally wanted to volunteer. Furthermore, it is alsp easy for volunteers to forget that their work is making a difference in the community.
1. Show them.
Show the volunteers that the work they are doing is serving others. The best way to do this is by having clients share testimonials about how the clients’ lives have been changed.
2. Tell them.
You as the leader of volunteers must remind volunteers that the work they are doing is serving and helping others. Share this with your volunteers regularly.
3. Ask them.
Take time to ask volunteers how they think they are making a difference. What have the volunteers done that will help society or the organization.
4. “The themes of internal motivation to make an external difference and volunteer existentialism yield the implication that organizations should continually emphasize in their recruitment and retention efforts the impact that volunteers have on those they are assisting” (Aguirre and Bolton, “Crisis Volunteers’ Motivations,” pp. 335-336).
5. “One very important theme seems to be the ‘sense of making a difference’ of contributing to some significant service that changes or helps the lives of others” (Eva Schindler-Rainman and Ronald Lippitt The Volunteer Community, p. 55).
C. Emphasize that it Is the Volunteers’ Work that Is Making that Difference.
Let volunteers know they are engaged in the daily actions that permit services to occur to people in need. Additionally, let volunteers know how the programs and services of your nonprofit organization could not continue without the help of volunteers. Volunteers need to know that it is their work that is making the difference in the community.
II. ALLOW EXPERIENCED VOLUNTEERS TO SHARE WITH NEW VOLUNTEERS
Early on, volunteer organizations may emphasize the various positive experiences that volunteerism can offer, perhaps allowing experienced volunteers to share their positive emotional experiences as volunteers.
Jorge Barraza, “Emotional Expectations for New Volunteers,” p. 218
One of the best ways that you can connect volunteers’ work with the cause of your organization is to allow new volunteers time to interact with experienced volunteers. New volunteers are trying to soak everything in. Lots of new information is being thrown at them at every turn. Placing new volunteers with experienced volunteers allows the experienced volunteers to tell the new volunteers about the work of the organization, how the individual work that the volunteers are doing makes a difference, and why the volunteer work is important.
III. FIND WAYS TO REGULARLY COMMUNICATE
The more volunteers see lives transformed as a result of their work, the more they are going to be energized and motivated to continue serving. This means you need to create ways to regularly communicate to volunteers about how they are making a difference in the community and in your organization.
This can be a weekly email update to all of your volunteers, hand written thank you notes, a monthly newsletter, or telling volunteers when you see them. How you communicate with your volunteers is not as important as it is that you regularly communicate.
IV. CONNECT THEIR WORK TO THEIR PERSONAL LIVES IF POSSIBLE
People want volunteer work to integrate with their personal lives, interests, and vocations.
Barnes and Sharpe, “Looking Beyond Traditional Volunteer Management,” p. 176
People want to volunteer with organizations that are relevant to their personal lives. So find ways to relate what volunteers are doing at your organization to their personal lives.
Question: How do you connect the work of your volunteers with the cause of your nonprofit?