My point of entry into the nonprofit sector started as a volunteer. To cut a long story short, in 2010 I contracted Meningitis and overnight I went from being a fitness teacher to being on death’s door. Fortunately, I made a full recovery but after this life changing experience I was left with the profound impression that I could and should do more to help others.
As soon as I was able to, I reached out to the organization which had come to my aid in my hour of need and within one year of being hospitalized I was out doing a fundraising marathon for the Meningitis Trust (renamed since as Meningitis now).
I began doing local events to raise their profile and deliver their core mission to young families and before long I began to understand the nonprofit sector from the ground up. This time remains one of the most rewarding of my life.
There’s a certain freedom about being a volunteer, and it taught me valuable career defining lessons. Especially when a few short years later, it was my day job to manage volunteers at a different charity which cared for the terminally ill. That early experience volunteering with the Meningitis Trust became incredibly helpful in my efforts to support our own volunteers.
Here are a few key insights to boost nonprofit volunteer morale
1. Pay special attention to the paid staff/volunteer dynamic
It’s vital to ensure volunteers feel no less important than the paid staff. If your nonprofit has a workforce who are salaried there is a tendency for divisions to open up between those who arrive everyday to pay the bills and those who volunteer to assist your core mission.
I’m sure we could all write a book about this but in my experience the emphasis rests on management to raise awareness within the salaried staff about how important the volunteers are.
It could help to have staff meetings fairly regularly on this very issue. These will underline to everyone how important the unpaid team members are. This culture of appreciation will be felt by the volunteers, fostering the feeling that their efforts—however small—don’t go unnoticed.
2. Listen to their needs
Every volunteer is different and everyone will come with slightly different expectations of what it means to help out. Whether the supporter desires to change their hours or has an idea for fundraising, it was my experience that actively listening and showing appreciation for their feedback goes a long way to help the volunteers feel appreciated, even if nothing ever comes from the conversation.
3. Establish professional expectations
This is a tough one, when a volunteer offers their time it’s important to set clear parameters of when and how often. Their labor is free but the organization will suffer if there’s an unprofessional approach to their contributions. Work booklets and volunteer welcome packs can manage expectations on both parts too.
4. Personal touch to show gratitude
A letter of thanks and a quick call to touch base will do a lot to keep the volunteers feeling like they are more than an afterthought and no one is taking their hard work for granted.
5. A group thank-you meal
The occasional trip out to a local restaurant or a group breakfast is a great idea to help bonding in the volunteer staff and to show appreciation. Volunteers go unpaid so it’s important to pay them in other ways.
6. Try not to over ask
I’ve seen how certain volunteers end up taking a larger and larger share of the workload and eventually one of the nonprofits’ most precious resources gets burnt out. This can happen quite naturally and leads to crucial people in the organization quitting.
Be aware of who is doing what and how often. The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t realize how important a volunteer was until one day they just don’t show up.
There’s no easy way to keep everyone happy but we’d all hope to exist as an organization where the vast majority of our volunteers feel appreciated and seen. Try implementing some of these tips and see if they help.
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