I was recently volunteering at the Freewill Players’ annual Shakespeare in the Park festival, where I gained some great insight into volunteer management. During my second shift, I was talking to one of the other volunteers and she told me, “It’s awesome to volunteer here! You are never bored, and you get to help make people happy and have a great time! It’s not like volunteering at other places. I mean, at [organization name] – that’s meaningful and important work, yeah, but it’s not nearly as fun.”
This really hit home for me – both in my work in helping promote Volunteer Alberta’s programs that help Managers of Volunteers, and my own volunteer work where I manage an e-zine, Sound and Noise, including its group of volunteers. As a life-long volunteer, I know meaningful work doesn’t have to be boring. So what did the Freewill Players do right to get that reaction from its volunteers?
1. Break tasks into self-directed roles – Did you know post-secondary graduates are one of the groups most likely to volunteer? Volunteers are smart! There’s no need to micro-manage them. The Freewill Players ensured we understood how our role fit into the success of the festival, and gave us enough authority that we gained ownership of our role. Moreover, we didn’t need someone looking over our shoulders, telling us what to do every step of the way.
2. Let volunteers see the impact they make – Hearing festival patrons say, “thanks so much!” at the end of the night was really gratifying, and it didn’t cost the Freewill Players a cent! 93% of volunteers say they volunteer to make a contribution to the community – so, why not show them that contribution? Even though it’s easier at an event where they interact with the public or clients, you can demonstrate the impact your volunteers make no matter what role they’re in! This could be as simple as sharing “thank-you” notes from stakeholders or client success stories with your volunteers regularly.
3. Respect volunteer’s time– In creating the volunteer roles, Freewill Players listed the times each volunteer was expected to be at the festival for. The roles carried enough responsibilities that there was never a dull moment during your shift, yet you didn’t feel overwhelmed. Moreover, if the organizers saw a volunteer without a task, they knew exactly which other areas needed help, ensuring no volunteers were bored or under-utilized. I was also pleasantly surprised at the orientation. The volunteers were sent a detailed volunteer handbook before the orientation, and it was kept short and sweet. A quick introduction to the organizing team members – so we could identify them during our shifts – and an overview of general information which every volunteer needed to know. There’s nothing worse (especially for busy people) than an orientation where volunteers get unnecessary information or spend time doing things that don’t add to the overall experience.
While volunteering at Shakespeare in the Park, I felt as though I was being engaged as a valued contributor, not just “free labour”. The three actions listed above – which any nonprofit/voluntary organization can do – made my experience with the Freewill Players fulfilling. I’ll be back next year!
Marketing and Communications Manager