Does your organization rely on volunteers to get its work done? How are you doing in recruiting and retaining them? Here are some ideas on how to attract - and retain - volunteer workers:
- Identify clearly what you need a volunteer to do. Outline a task - better yet, make a list of possibilities and provide the opportunity for the prospective volunteer to choose the role that attracts them.
- Ask them. Your potential volunteers might not step forward on their own, either because they don't know what needs to be done or because they don't feel at home enough to step out without help.
- Be encouraging. If you are part of the existing infrastructure of the organization you might have done these tasks yourself a million times. You might have what you perceive a higher level of competence in doing them. But if you really want to have more hands and feet available, rather than oversteer or criticize, notice the positive aspects of the new volunteer's contribution. Oh, and praise doesn't go out of style once the volunteer has clocked some time. Even seasoned volunteers like to hear attaboys now and then.
- Let them stick their toe in the water. Some of your volunteers would like to try a little bit before they commit to the whole shebang. You don't want to burn them out so that you have to start from scratch finding new ones. If the job is too big, split it up.
- Unleash their ideas. Your new volunteers might have new approaches to old tasks. Don't trip yourself up with a "Not Invented Here" mentality and shut them down just because you didn't already think of it. If you truly want more people to share "ownership" of your organization's work you need to give them a piece of the creative action.
- Partner up. There are many jobs that are not fun to do solo, but that are energizing and rewarding when you do them with a buddy. If you can recruit volunteers in twos or threes you can help them to overcome shyness and to create relationship glue that keeps them coming back. And if there are ways to make it fun, by all means do so.
- Check in with them. Running a volunteer organization is a massive delegation operation. Just as you would do at work, create target dates and milestones to keep everyone moving in sync. In addition, the initial assignment might not exactly click for someone, or they might realize once in that they don't have the tools to do it. Get feedback from them, answer their questions, and if need be plug them in somewhere else that's a better fit for them.
- Recognize their efforts and continue to tie back to the organization's purpose. Look for opportunities to celebrate achievements. Your volunteers aren't tied to you by a paycheck - their pay is the psychic reward that comes from personal achievement, or from advancing a cause that is important to them. Help them to remember the bigger reasons why they chose to volunteer - and help them feel motivated to continue.