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What Do Your Volunteers Want?

10 Ways to Keep Your Volunteers Coming Back


Is now the golden age of volunteerism? More people than ever want to give back to their communities, and volunteer work is encouraged, from the halls of congress to the words and images in the media. Now could be the very best time to take a look at your volunteer program and spiff it up so that your volunteers will want to come and stay.

But volunteerism has changed and volunteer expectations have evolved. Here are a few things today's volunteer has a right to expect from you - master these and you will have happy volunteers.

1. They want you to be prepared for them.

Many of us at some point have worked in the temp world. A common experience is to be sent to an office to work only to find that the office is unprepared. So you sit around trying to look busy when really you are twiddling your thumbs. Don't let this happen to your volunteers.

The temp worker, after all, needs the money and will likely put up with this, but your volunteers will see you as disorganized and inconsiderate. Don't bring a volunteer in until you have everything worked out, from the job description to a place to work with proper equipment, to something to do immediately.

2. They want to feel welcomed.

Volunteer being welcomed to a nonprofit.
David Lees/Getty Images
Act as though your volunteer is a guest in your home. Show her around. Introduce him to your staff and other volunteers, have your executive director drop by and say hello and thanks. Don't let your volunteer feel uncomfortable for a minute. Show that your organization is warm, friendly, helpful, and happy to see your volunteer.

3. They want good training.

Training some volunteers.
Ableimages/Getty Images
Even if the task assigned is a simple one, take the time to explain it, demonstrate it, and mentor the volunteer through the first few hours. Provide a buddy, another volunteer who is experienced, to help the new one.

When training a group of volunteers, be sure to use adult learning techniques such as group involvement. Volunteers don't want to be lectured to. They want to participate in the training. Include in your training clear expectations for your volunteers. Let them know what the job entails and the quality measures that you will use to evaluate their work.

4. They want to do interesting work.

Volunteer at a dig.
Siri Stafford/Getty Images
Most volunteers are willing to roll their sleeves up and do physical labor as long as it is meaningful. But grunt work is out. Do not use volunteers to do the tasks your staff doesn't want to do. Envelope licking, wheelchair pushing, and mindless filing do not appeal to modern volunteers. Think of your volunteers as extra staff who are capable of performing complex tasks that take advantage of their experience and skills. Provide leadership opportunities to those volunteers who are willing and have the time to shoulder more responsibility.

5. They want to know up front how much time the job will take.

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Everyone is busier than ever, and many volunteers may only have time for short term assignments. Project-oriented, rather than ongoing, assignments seem to work particularly well. Decide how much time your job will need and include that when you publicize your volunteer position. Will it take 6 hours a week that can be done over three days? Does it need to be done on a weekend? Do you need your volunteer for the summer, for a season? Does the volunteer need to be available from 2 to 4 p.m. during the week?

Provide lots of options so that you can appeal to a millennial professions, a busy soccer mom, or the retiree who has more time. Think about offering "alternative" opportunities, such as project-based family volunteering and even microvolunteering or virtual opportunities.

6. They want to be appreciated.

Include a handwritten note to your thank you letter.
Getty Images
Tell your volunteers frequently that they are doing a good job. Although you will want to come up with some creative ways of formally saying thanks, don't overlook the power of a simple gesture such as taking them to lunch, providing a small gift, or sending a thank you card to their home.

7. They want you to communicate with them well and often.

Volunteers discussing ideas.
Chris Strong/Getty Images
Regular communication is motivating for volunteers, while the lack of it is one of the chief reasons volunteers become dissatisfied. Volunteers like to have a particular person who looks after them. If your organization does not have a volunteer coordinator, be sure to assign someone to be the point person for your volunteers.

Be ready to listen to volunteers and respond to concerns immediately. Telephone them, have meetings, invite them to stop by your office, send info via social media, or email them regular updates or a volunteer newsletter.

8. They want to know that they are helping to make the world a better place.

Child with balloon.
Andrew Wong/Getty Images
Let your volunteers know how they are making a difference. Share success stories about your clients and programs. Bring them up-to-date on progress toward your organization's goals. Let them see your work in action through tours, presentations on the issues by your experts, and by inviting them to provide suggestions about how your work can be done even better.

9. They want to be socially connected.

Volunteers becoming friends.
David Baumber/Getty Images
Volunteering is a great way for many people to socialize, so provide the opportunity to do so. Become a matchmaker for friend making. If you think a couple of volunteers would get along famously, provide that opportunity by assigning them to do a particular job together.

Provide some time for coffee or lunch. Invite them to your events and follow up to encourage them to attend or even provide help in getting there. Invite a volunteer to become an informal social director who might provide outside opportunities for volunteers to get together.

10. They want to learn something new.

Volunteers learning about whales.
Robert Frerck/Getty Images
Anyone who is willing to volunteer for an organization is likely to have a healthy curiosity and willingness to try new things. Indeed, many volunteers get involved with causes just so they can learn new skills or about interesting topics and issues. Provide that opportunity. Turning your volunteer job into a mini-educational experience will be highly valued by potential volunteers, and will likely result in some great referrals as your volunteers tell others about what a great experience they are having.
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