Place Volunteers Where They Are Motivated & Skilled

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.

The area in which volunteers can serve is based on the individual programs within your nonprofit organization. For example, when I worked at the United Way of Stanislaus County we had a variety of different programs which we could place volunteers in. We had a 2-1-1 help-line that was a free number individuals could call when they needed food, clothing, shelter, etc. We had a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program which helped low-income families get their taxes done for free. Another program was a Graduation Coach program designed to help students in our community graduate high school. These were three different programs which volunteers could have been passionate about.

In addition to individual programs which volunteers might be passionate about, you also can find work and tasks that volunteers are passionate about. For example, some volunteers might be introverted and love to work quietly at a desk. For these people they are happy to work folding papers, collating materials, running a copy machine, organizing clothes in a clothes closet, pricing items at a thrift store, etc. Other volunteers might be extroverted and only want to do volunteer work that has interaction with people. These volunteers want to answer the phone, help clients fill out paperwork, or run committees. In this manner you can match volunteers with work and tasks that they are passionate about.

Whether you try to help volunteers find a place they are motivated to serve by placing them in a program they are passionate about or a position they are passionate about, the most important part is that you find a way to get them engaged in a way that they are motivated and passionate to serve.

A. Volunteers Who Serve in Roles that Match their Motivations for Serving:

1. derive more satisfaction from their service
2. derive more enjoyment from their service
3. are most likely to continue serving (Clary, et. al., “Understanding and Assessing Motivations of Volunteers,” p. 1528).

B. People Need to See Themselves as Volunteers, Activists, and Leaders

The best way to do this is to put volunteers in the areas where they are passionate and skilled at.

Role Identity Model is that which best explains sustained volunteerism. In order reach this stage, and likewise to reach the higher levels of participation in an organization, it is necessary for people to integrate this characteristic into their self-concept—to see themselves as volunteers, activists, leaders, and so on. When the volunteer role becomes part of personal identity, behaviors are produced and maintained independently of variables such as social norms. In accordance with this, role identity would be more strongly related to long-term service duration.
Chacon, et. al., “Three-Stage Model of Volunteers’ Duration,” pp. 630-631

C. However, these Motives Change over Time

In a few of my previous posts I have mentioned that research shows volunteers’ motives change over time.

1. At the beginning, serving others and an organization is the great motivator.
2. Long-term, personal development becomes a stronger motivator.

Altruistic motives, and their fulfillment, becomes less important over time and consequently contribute less than other motives to the development of a volunteer role identity.
Marcia Finkelstein, “Predictors of Volunteer Time,” p. 1360

How Motivations of Volunteers Change Over Time


Many volunteers become frustrated and burned out because the challenge they are given does not connect with their talents or who they are as people. Challenged volunteers need to be connected with the right task—a task that utilizes their skills and the things they are uniquely passionate about.
Japhet De Oliveira “Motivating and Leading Volunteers,” p. 71

In addition to placing volunteers where they are motivated to serve, you also need to discover what they are good at. Often the area that volunteers want to serve in is also the area that they are skilled, but that is not always the case. Below I show you some simple ways to find what your volunteers are good at.

A. Two Ways to Discover this:

1. Formal assessments

a) Christian Assessments

Network(1) Network, Bill Hybels

(a) Book with lots of questions designed to asses volunteers’ “spiritual gifts.”

(b) This book is no longer in print.

(2) DISCovering Your Spiritual Gift, C. Gene Wilkes

(a) Assessment to discern spiritual gifts of Christians according to the 15 spiritual gifts described in the Bible.

(b) 75 questions

(c) I originally took this assessment in Charting a Bold Course by Andrew Seidel.

(d) To obtain copies of this assessment write, In His Grace, Inc., 3006 Quincannon Ln., Houston, TX 77043. or, Dr. C. Gene Wilkes at Legacy Drive Baptist Church, 4501 Legacy Dr., Plano, TX 75024.

(3) Gifted2Serve

(a) Helps Christians discover which of the 25 different spiritual gifts they possess.

(b) $0 to take assessment

Maximizing Your Effectiveness(5) Maximizing Your Effectiveness: How to Discover and Develop Your Divine Design, Aubrey Malphurs

(a) Thorough assessment of believers’ strengths and matching them with what the Bible describes as 11 possible spiritual gifts of believers.

(b) Also includes “temperament assessment.”

(c) 100 questions

(d) $0 to take assessment here,

(e) $22 for book

NOW, Discover Your Strengthsb) Secular Assessments

(1) Now, Discover Your Strengths: How to Develop Your Talents and Those of the People You Manage (Gallup Press, 2001), Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton

(a) Focus is placed on self identification of the strengths, how to cultivate those strengths, and how to talk about them.

(b) Provides a list of 34 different “themes and ideas for action”

(c) $8.99 for book

Strengths Finder 2.0(2) Strengths Finder 2.0 (Gallup Press, 2007), Tom Rath

(a) Provides online assessment that helps readers objectively identify their strengths

(b) Provides a list of 34 different “themes and ideas for action”

(c) $22.95 for book

(3) Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow (Gallup Press, 2008), Tom Rath and Barry Conchie

Strengths Based Leadership(a) Uses the same online assessment as Strengths Finder 2.0 but provides additional explanation and tips for leaders and team members.

(b) Provides a list of 34 different “themes and ideas for action”

(c) $24.95 for book

(4) Workuno Strengths Test

(a) Appears to be a free version of the Strengths Finder 2.0 online assessment along with 34 profiles originally appearing in Now, Discover Your Strengths (although there is no mention of this).

(b) 170 questions

Workuno Strengths Test(c) takes 15 minutes to complete

(d) provides brief text and video explanation of each strength

(d) requirements to take test

(i) name

(ii) email

(iii) password

(e) $0 to take assessment

Multiple Intelligences for Audelt Literacy and Education(5) Multiple Intelligencies for Adult Literacy and Education, by Howard Gardner,

(a) This is more of an “intelligence” assessment as far as if someone thinks in numbers, feelings, etc.

(b) focuses on different types of intelligence

(i) self (intrapersonal)

(ii) language (linguistic)

(iii) body movement (kinesthetic)

(iv) nature

(v) spatial

(vi) social (interpersonal

(vii) musical

(viii) math

(c) 56 questions

(d) 5 minutes to complete

(e) free assessment

c) A Note about Assessments

For some people it did work; they took the test, determined their spiritual gifts, and immediately started using them—a simple story with a happy ending. For many people, however, taking an assessment test was not enough. We discovered that the right assessment tool can be useful if a person has past serving experience to help inform their assessment. But for a complete rookie to Kingdom life, the approach often raises more questions than it answers.
Bill Hybels, The Volunteer Revolution, p. 70

Sometimes assessments can be a barrier to getting volunteers involved and active in the community. For example, several journal articles I’ve read in nonprofit management and leadership journals have published their findings that some nonprofit organizations actually have more success by limiting the assessments of their volunteers in the initial offer to volunteer. For example, parks and recreation organizations along with forestry and wildlife organizations have found that their volunteers are most successful when they simply allow the volunteers to go out and work instead of stopping the volunteers to complete assessments, do trainings, etc.

So, my point with assessments is that you should not let them get in the way of your volunteers doing work. Sometimes you don’t need to assess the strengths and passion of your volunteers. Sometimes you just need volunteers to do a task which the volunteers already know how to do.

2. Talk about it

In addition to formal assessments to discover what volunteers are passionate about and good at, you can also simply just talk with volunteers in order to discover what they are good at.

a) Help volunteers to identify where they might excel

When volunteers come to you to support your work they might not know what volunteer job they want to do. Furthermore, the volunteers might not even know what they are good at. Your job as the leader of volunteers is to help those volunteers discover what they are good at.

b) Ask

I have found it best to simply ask a series of questions to volunteers in order to discover where the volunteers are passionate and what their skills are.

(1) Passion Identifiers:

(a) What are you good at?

(b) What do people say you are good at?

(c) What energizes you?

(d) What comes naturally and effortlessly to you?

(e) What do you do when you have free time?

(2) Passion Stoppers:

(a) What aren’t you good at?

(b) What tasks do you do which someone else has to do again for you?

(c) What drains your energy?

(d) What’s the last thing you want to do when you have free time?

(3) Role of Community in this Process

(a) the person who brings the volunteer in

(b) the people who they work with

(c) the people who supervise them

(d) the people they are being served by

B. Match the Task and Individual

Most of all, you have to find ways to match volunteers’ passion and strengths. Do your best to overlap their strengths and their passions with the options you have available as volunteer opportunities.


An attempt to help people maximize their effectiveness without draining their energy slowly slid to an, “I can’t serve until I find the perfect spot” mentality. It wasn’t that people refused to serve in less-than-ideal circumstances. It was more that they thought they weren’t supposed to; they thought they first had to “get it all figured out” so they could “do it all right.” People knew their identity as servants and wanted to serve, but knowing how and where to serve had become a very complicated process.
Bill Hybels, The Volunteer Revolution, p. 70

Like most things in life, too much of a good thing can be bad. This idea of matching volunteers’ strengths and passions can cause problems if it is too strict.

Someone has to take out the trash. Someone has to type numbers into an excel spreadsheet. Someone has to clean the poop from the dog kennels at the animal shelter. Someone has to fold flyers and letters for the mail. Therefore, you will not be able to match the skills and passions of every volunteer perfectly. But, your job as the leader of volunteers is to do your best to discover the passions and strengths of your volunteers (whether those volunteers are potential or already at your organization) and to place volunteers in the positions that best matches up with those passions and strengths.

Question: What are some of the ways you match the passions and skills of your volunteers? 

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