4 Tips for Happy Volunteers – Part 1

If you have ever worked at a nonprofit, I’m sure you already know the value of volunteers. After all, none of our organizations could run without them!  Every nonprofit organization has a volunteer board, and in Alberta, 58% of nonprofit organizations operate with no paid staff at all. But, just because we see volunteers doing indispensable work in our organizations doesn’t mean that we always recognize how important it is to take care of our volunteers.

Think of your volunteers as unpaid staff. Now think of any jobs you have held where you wouldn’t have lasted long if you weren’t being paid (I’m thinking of you, paper route.). So how can you ensure your volunteers are enjoying a positive experience that will keep them coming back for more?

1. First off, know why your volunteers do come out. This is different for each volunteer and some volunteers may have more than one motivation. Some common reasons volunteers get involved:

  • It’s a way to make a difference about something you care about.
  • It’s an opportunity to give back, pay it forward, or help others. This might fulfil a moral obligation, or give you warm, fuzzy feelings (satisfaction, fulfillment, happiness, pride, etc.).
  • It builds your resume and offers great work experience.
  • It can improve your language skills and help you get acquainted with a new culture.
  • It can offer new knowledge and skills.
  • It’s a chance to try something new or different.
  • It can include great perks like food, tickets, parties, and swag.
  • Volunteering is fun (and not volunteering is boring)!
  • It’s a great way to meet new people and become part of a community.

Once you know why your volunteer is involved, you can help tailor their experience to better meet their goals. For example, if they are there because they want to try something new, find out what they do at their job or in their free time, and choose something a little bit different for them to work on.

Regardless of their main reason for showing up, volunteers tend to stay in a position that offers them a chance to make friends and join a community. Make an effort to bring your volunteers together with meetings or volunteer recognition events. Ensure your volunteers work with, or near, others so they have a chance to chat with someone (other than themselves). Make sure there is some kind of interpersonal connection for those working more independently, and don’t forget to create your own connections and friendships with your volunteers! It will make your job more enjoyable as well.

2. Practice good communication with your volunteers so that they feel informed and included. Any time a volunteer starts a new task, give them some information and instruction. This might involve a walk-through or role-playing a situation, or asking them to look over a handbook. Make sure you include clear goals for your volunteers, and show them how these goals fit with the overall goals of your organization. Check in throughout each project and debrief at the end of a task.  This means making time for one-on-one meetings, formal or informal, so that your volunteers have a chance to ask questions, share concerns, and provide feedback.

Check out the Learning Resource Guides in Volunteer Alberta’s Resource Centre (VARC) for more ideas and information on volunteer recruitment, retention, and recognition, and visit us later this week for tips 3 and 4!

Sam Kriviak, Program Coordinator