How to Motivate Volunteers in your NGO: A Free Guide
Volunteers are the lifeblood of many organisations, indeed almost every non profit got started by either an individual or group of people volunteering their time. Even the biggest development organisations in the world such as the United Nations use volunteers from all around the world to increase their effectiveness. The question remains, how do you get the most of your volunteers and how can you motivate them to go the extra mile for your organisation? free guide will take you through a series of key strategies that will help your organisation to get the most from this critical but often overlooked asset. Whether you are a grassroots organisation just starting out or an organisation working across the world, a motivated volunteer force can make a tremendous difference to your organisations impact on its community.
Make them at Home: Your volunteers want to feel a part of your organisation and that their contribution is valued. There are thousands of different and organisations that they could be spending their free time with but instead they have chosen to work with you. Make them feel at home by providing them with somewhere comfortable to work, introduce them to other staff and volunteers and generally pay an interest in their lives. Volunteers are there primarily because they want to help but they also want to enjoy their time with your organisation. Make them feel included and keep them informed of what is happening including asking their opinion when it is appropriate. Volunteers may see an opportunity or a way to improve that others have missed, give them a chance to make a difference.
Understand your Volunteers: Every volunteer does so for a combination of different reasons. Understanding these motivations is the key to getting the best from them as well as providing them with the best experience that you can. Some volunteers may be working with you to gain experience in certain fields such as management or fundraising whilst others will be there solely because they want to make a difference to your cause. It is rare that you will find a volunteer who is only with your organisation for just one reason. Put yourself in their shoes, they have chosen to give up their free leisure time to work instead, why? Don’t be afraid to ask them, it is the only way that you can provide them with an experience that is truly valuable whilst ensuring that they make the biggest positive impact on your work as they possibly can. If you understand your volunteers you will know how to motivate them and keep them around for the long term.
Give Back: Your volunteers are giving up their time, skills, knowledge and experience to help your cause, you have a responsibility to give back to them and invest in them in return. For most volunteers, not all, they will need to learn how to do whatever job it is that they will be doing for your organisation. Even if it seems basic and obvious to you, it is courteous to walk them through it, answer any questions they have and ensure you are always around to support them in case of any problems, as well making sure that they do not feel abandoned. Treat your volunteer like a staff member, the better they are trained the better and quicker they will be at their tasks, allowing your organisation to do more, which is ultimately why you need and want them there in the first place.
Share everything you can: The more your volunteers know the more they will be able to help you to do your job better. Often volunteers are on the frontline and learn opinions and experience situations that management may be too far away and too busy to notice. They will notice the little things so its important that there is an open exchange between volunteer and manager. If your volunteer knows that you’re considering starting a new service, for example, they may well already have an idea what your beneficiaries think about it or know of potential challenges in service delivery that you haven’t considered. Share with you volunteers what you are working on, what the ultimate goal is and what your hopes are, get them to buy into what you’re doing and they will see how they are contributing to the bigger picture. Volunteers are time consuming to replace so you never want to lose one when you don’t have to, by sharing what is going on in the organisation you can help to integrate them further into your organisations vision and hopefully keep them involved for the long term.
Recognise their work: Volunteers, like any of us, will feel better about their work if they feel appreciated and that they are making a positive contribution. Remind them what a positive impression they are making and share with them what would happen if they weren’t there. Without volunteers paid staff would have far less time to focus on developing new projects, raising funds and managing the organisation.  We recommend trying to stop at least once a day to thank them for their work, especially at the end of the day so that they go home feeling like they have achieved something.
Thank and reward: Many organisations simply couldn’t survive or do anywhere near as much if they suddenly had no volunteers. Make sure that they understand their true value by finding an appropriate way to thank them. From volunteer thank you evenings to a simple thank you letter signed by all of the staff, it doesn’t have to cost money and the personal touch will always leave the best impression. If you’ve followed our other tips you will have done your best to get to know your volunteer and will be in a great position to arrange a little something that you know they will appreciate. Use your imagination and make your volunteer feel like a king at least once a year!
Be flexible: Volunteers give a great deal to organisations in their time, energy and expertise, but sometimes life crops up and they will have to stop for a moment. At these times it is important to be as understanding and supportive as you possibly can, even if it is going to cause you problems. Some situations can’t be helped but you can make a volunteer feel much better about letting you and your organisation down by being positive and helping them in anyway that you can.
A happy volunteer is a motivated volunteer. Make sure that you listen and respond to every volunteer individually and you will go a long way to keeping them motivated. Do you have any tips for motivating volunteers? What has worked for your and your organisation? Get involved in our comments section and let us know!
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