When a friend asks you to volunteer with her for a cause she cares about, you say yes. Or at least I did last week. Though she had little information about the event or the organization – what tasks we were to perform, where exactly the funds went, or even the appropriate attire — we signed up anyway.
Needless to say, I did not end up having the best experience. From a less- than-warm welcome, to spending hours peeling stickers off promo items, I did not leave feeling my time was well spent. What exactly must we do in the nonprofit world to keep our volunteers smiling and coming back for more? Follow these five steps in order to avoid mishaps:
- Be prepared. Bring your volunteers into your event or workspace only when you are truly ready for them to get down to work. If they enter a chaotic environment or sit for hours waiting for you to get organized, they feel underutilized and unappreciated. Work out the logistics prior to their arrival, and think about the details in advance (from a printed job description to a place to sit). Volunteers want to get in and get started right away.
- Offer a welcoming greeting. Treat your volunteers as you would a guest in your home. Show them around, introduce them to your staff and connect them with other volunteers. From the minute they arrive, they should feel your gratitude and enthusiasm. You might assign another volunteer to serve as the welcome/orientation manager, so that even if staff are busy, your volunteer gets the proper level of attention.
- Take the time to explain. Even if the task a simple one, walk through the assignment in detail – and perhaps even demonstrate it. Offer hands-on help during the first hour or so. There’s nothing worse (for you or for the volunteer) than finding out after 2 hours of work that the invitations were stuffed incorrectly! While volunteers don’t want to be lectured, they do want clear, concise instructions.
- Be clear about how long the task will take. Everyone is busy and many volunteers have time only for short-term assignments. Decide in advance how much time you are asking the volunteer to commit and then conclude at the promised hour. Volunteers are more likely to return if they know they can count on an accurate representation of the work.
- Don’t forget to say “thanks!” (over and over again). Volunteers want to be appreciated. Tell them frequently they are doing a good job. Never overlook the power of simple gestures, such as sending a thank you card, taking them to lunch, or just articulating how much you truly appreciate their help that day.
How do you keep your volunteers happy and engaged? We’d love to hear your thoughts.