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Why People Volunteer and how do I keep them happy?

By Tom Linley, Florida Association For Volunteer Resource Management

Volunteering has plenty of benefits for both the volunteer and the host organization. So why do people volunteer? According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics about 43% of people volunteer because something intrinsic drew them to the organization while another 42% volunteer because they were asked by a friend, family member or someone in the organization. Most volunteer because it meets their needs; they have an affinity for the cause, they’re looking for job experience, they desire social interactions with like-minded people and many other reasons.

For the last eight years the Conference Board Job Satisfaction survey shows that more that 50% of US workers are unhappy with their jobs. While employees and volunteers aren’t necessarily the same something can be learned from this survey.  As a professional volunteer manager, how can you keep your volunteers happy?

  • Start with ensuring that volunteers know how valuable they are to your organization, accomplishing your mission and serving your cause. Volunteers need a clear understanding of how they fit into your organization.  This can be accomplished through a clear and structured orientation program. Starting volunteers with a solid footing will serve as a foundation for growing them into strong, committed, and long-term volunteers. 
  • Keep the work interesting.  I don’t like mundane tasks but they still need to be accomplished. Help volunteers understand the importance of the task at hand. Let them know how simple, and perhaps boring tasks help achieve the larger goals.  Show them how valued their contribution is to your mission. Use the buddy system or create a team with mundane tasks; this can satisfy the social needs of volunteers.
  • Volunteers can be an effective part of your team by including them in staff meetings, trainings and important work. They are very capable of doing serious projects usually accomplished by paid employees. Perhaps a small team of employees mixed with the right volunteers will result in an improved product, service or event. The pay status of your staff shouldn’t make a difference.  Expect great things from volunteers and they will deliver.

Though volunteers come to your organization for different reasons they will stay committed longer with a healthy dose of nurturing and care. Professional volunteer managers play an important role in advocating for and supporting the inclusion of their volunteers into all facets of your organization’s mission. 

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