Listen to Volunteers’ Voices

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)

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at