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Finding, Supporting, and Keeping Volunteers

Motivations to Volunteer

A parent group is comprised of volunteers. If your group doesn't fit this description, perhaps you haven't asked individuals to help. Extended family members or friends as well as previous participants are some of the contacts that you should consider. Did you know that most people will volunteer if asked to help? The traditional view of volunteering is "a willingness to contribute without pay." Now, however, there is an acknowledgement that volunteering is itself a benefit.

A Gallup Poll found that the top five reasons for volunteering were:

  1. Desire to be useful
  2. Enjoyment
  3. Participation would benefit a family member or friend
  4. Desire to give back, as they had previously benefited from the activity
  5. Desire to learn and get experience

An individual's need for increased self-esteem may be a personal motivator. The opportunity to use a talent, freedom to decide how a task will be done, and the recognition one will receive for what he or she has done all are valuable reasons to give oneís time. Some volunteers will be committed to serving the organization, some to making a difference in people's lives, and some to the ideal of the organization and social change. There is room and a need for all.

Volunteer Roles

Rather than starting by asking how volunteers can help your organization, look at the needs of the organization and ask: What needs to be done around here? What unmet needs are there that you are unable to address? Brainstorm with your staff, board, or core group and prioritize your needs. Do the same exercise with the people power available to you. Don't forget to address reasons #3 and #4 above.

In your group, does it seem that certain people always bear the load? How can this work be distributed more evenly? Each member needs to feel they are an integral part of and necessary to the group. Look at the individuals in your group and see what strengths are represented. Positive change occurs when we build on these strengths. Matching talents that your members possess with roles that need filling is an excellent way of maximizing your volunteer resources. Keep in mind, however, that people often like to volunteer for tasks in an area that is different from their career focus.

You may find it helpful to view the volunteers as an extension of your staff, if you have one. Everyone, whether paid or unpaid, wants to be involved with an organization that is respected and an atmosphere that is enjoyable.

Before presenting an assignment idea to a volunteer, determine if that person is people- or task-oriented, so that you can assign the person to a task she is well suited for. Be honest and tell the person why you chose to ask them for a particular assignment. After you have given the assignment, be sure to communicate a clear sense of responsibilities. Ask volunteers for their expectations, questions they may have, or if they need any clarification. If the tasks are small, share how their participation in this way frees you up to do another specific function and contributes to overall productivity.

It is wise to ask for their input regarding how the tasks might be enhanced or improved since they will have a unique hands-on perspective. Consider the suggestions seriously and, if possible, take action to incorporate at least a portion of their suggestion into a new procedure. Attaching time limits to assignments is helpful and diminishes burnout. This also allows you to reward productive volunteers with other assignments and move less productive to other assignments that may be a better fit for them. Allow long-time volunteers to take brief leaves of absence without guilt or pressure, assuring them of your anticipation of their return.

I would like to commend a particular group's approach to filling several volunteer positions. Each opening was listed with the responsibilities "as it is now." That is an excellent invitation to participation and change. When the job was extremely large, various group members divided up the tasks so each could do a bit. Members volunteered for what they liked to do and felt they could handle. Their sense of empowerment contributed to problem solving in other areas.

At the conclusion of a volunteer's term, ask him to complete an evaluation form. Some questions you might want to include are: How do you feel about yourself when you are volunteering? How are you treated here? What suggestions do you have for the organization, for the volunteer program, and for your assignment? What would have made this experience better for you?

When a member agrees to take on a new task, announce the change to the group in a meeting and in your newsletter. Sharing the reasons you think she will do well is not only an encouragement to that person, but to the rest of the group to be more involved.

Recognizing Volunteers

Be liberal with your recognition of volunteers' willingness to help and jobs well done in a number of different ways. Make recognition a habit, being sure not to overlook anyone, including informal or off-site volunteer help. Using post cards is a wonderful way to acknowledge those you donít see often. Remembering volunteers on their birthday is another easy and caring way to show them they are important to you and the group. Keep past volunteers on your list. Knowing you still appreciate what they have done in the past may encourage them to become active once again.

Host an annual volunteer recognition evening and have the board and staff entertain the guests. The caliber of talent is not the priority, but rather the sincerity of the appreciation. The worst music can bring the largest laughs and enjoyment for all. Acknowledge the volunteers with the ways they have contributed, a certificate, and small gift or an inside perk such as a t-shirt that is not available to your other participants. It is also validating to make up a poster listing each volunteer with the total number of hours given during the year. Display it at the recognition evening and your meetings for the month and include the information in your newsletter.

Corporate Resources

When thinking about volunteers, don't forget that corporations might volunteer business support to your organization. When contacting businesses, use an assembled packet with your brochure, newsletter, meeting schedule, and other pertinent information about your organization. Using a written script for your sales pitch and preparing responses to possible questions is advised. Start by asking for more service than you want.

Once you have succeeded in obtaining a verbal agreement you may want to sign a letter of agreement with a representative of the business to prevent misunderstandings and also document the agreement should there be a change of management. When working with businesses be sure to follow these three rules:

  1. Pay for most of the business you have with the vendor and use their free services only once or twice a year for a special project.
  2. Don't use another vendor for the same type of service.
  3. Recognize the business verbally and in print.

Corporations will contribute if it makes good business sense. Presenting a printed and framed acknowledgement stating the number of years of service can be good public relations for the business.


North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)
970 Raymond Avenue, Suite 106
St. Paul, MN 55114
phone: 651-644-3036
fax: 651-644-9848
e-mail: info@nacac.org
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