Empowering Excellent Volunteers

Your organization’s best volunteers are more than people who appear out of nowhere and ask “Need any help?”   No, they bring much more than willingness to the table!    Solid volunteerism has to be developed, cultivated, nurtured and protected for it to flourish.  Here are six things you and your organization can do to attract –and keep– top-flight volunteers.

1. Be honest about what serving in this way will cost.  More than just time, there will be moments of pure inconvenience.  Be honest about those.  Sometimes it will cost money too; things the volunteer will want to get to do well.  If they exist, say so up front. Set your expectations reasonably high, and then express them so they know up front.  And then say (I’ve had excellent success with this)  “Think about it.  If you think you can afford it, I’d love to have you join the team.”    Quality conscious people don’t like to think they can’t afford whatever it is, but they also appreciate being able to count the cost before committing themselves to a task or a season.   Don’t undersell the role with “It’ll only take  a, b, c”    Chances are you’ll only get a.  Maybe b.

2. Provide the best tools you can afford to help them excel in their roles.  When great volunteers have what they need to do a great job, they keep coming back.  They make a good situation better.  And when you ask “Do you need anything?”  they are more inclined to tell you honestly, because they know you take their work seriously.  It also works well to systematically introduce new tools through out the year rather than all at once.  You never know who might be running a bit thin when you add something that will help them.   Morale recovers and you’re on your way again.

3. Invest in their growth.  Receive what they bring through the door when they arrive but help them grow while they’re with you.  Encouraging evaluation, training,  additional development are all worthwhile!  If you do well at this, the only reason you’ll lose a volunteer is because he or she moves away!

4.  Know their worth and treat them accordingly.  As of this writing a volunteer’s hour is worth $22.14.   (Check the latest rate at independentsector.org/volunteer_time)

5. Feed them!  Seems so simple, I know,  but snacks, free bottled water, seasonal treats, appreciation dinners that are NOT carry-in or pot-luck style tell your volunteers plenty about how your organization values them!

6. Say Thank You!    Everyone likes to hear it, but do you know how?  Some prefer one to one in private conversation.  Some enjoy being called up front at a gathering.  Know what means the most to your volunteer and say Thank you the way they’ll best receive it.  You can’t say Thank you too often.  Unlike Tevye and Golde in Fiddler on the Roof:

Tevye: [in song] Do you love me?

Golde: [speaking] I’m your wife!

Tevye: [speaking] I know!

[in song]

Tevye: But do you love me?

Golde: [singing] Do I love him? For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him, fought with him, starved with him. Twenty-five years, my bed is his…

Tevye: Shh!

Golde: [singing] If that’s not love, what is?

Tevye: [singing] Then you love me!

Golde: I suppose I do!

Tevye: Oh.


Tevye: And I suppose I love you too.

TevyeGolde: [singing] It doesn’t change a thing, but even so… After twenty-five years, it’s nice to know.

A couple other things I’ve written about Volunteerism in the non-profit sector:



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