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12 Ways to Connect with Volunteers

At its simplest level, volunteer retention is purely a matter of making volunteers feel good about their assignment and themselves. If the experience is satisfying and rewarding, the volunteers will continue to participate.

People who feel connected are those who experience a sense of belonging—a sense of being part of a relationship with others. In a highly mobile society, this need often goes unmet. Volunteers should not be regarded as different from paid staff in any way except their compensation, which you can provide in a number of ways.

  1. Seek their input

    Because they are often new to the agency, volunteers are uniquely suited to recognizing opportunities to enhance services or internal systems. Be sincere in trying to understand volunteers’ point of view.

  2. Create a mutually validating climate

    Praise goes a long way, as long as it’s honest and specific.

  3. Communicate their contributions

    Leaders at all levels in the agency should spread the word about positive volunteer achievements. Have volunteers write newsletter articles or blog posts about their experiences. When other volunteers read these articles, it reminds them why they are involved as well.

  4. Address them by name

    All staff members should understand the importance of learning the names of their volunteers.

  5. Invite them in

    Invitations communicate esteem and respect. Include volunteers in work-related and social functions, including parties, meetings and training sessions.

  6. Keep them informed

    Nothing is as fundamental to a team’s effectiveness as a common sense of what the team is trying to achieve. Staff and volunteers should see themselves as equal partners.

  7. Encourage their creativity

    Organizations that are willing to take the chance and learn from their volunteers unleash a tremendous amount of innovation and service improvement.

  8. Set high standards

    If the expectations are too easy to meet, people will not feel special about their participation.

  9. Monitor volunteer regard

    Scrutinize the views of paid staff members, as well as volunteers’ own views of themselves. Try to generate positive ideas for improving negative situations by asking, “What can you or I do to make this organization more like the kind of place you want it to be?”

  10. Give them ownership in the mission

    Make sure that volunteers or volunteer teams can point to something and say, “This is mine.”

  11. Offer sincere and consistent recognition

    When recognition is given to a team consisting of both paid staff and volunteers, the sense of connection is very powerful.

  12. Promote interaction

    It's lonely out there, so bring people together for training, potlucks, and other events where they can share their “war stories.”

Rick Lynch is the Seattle-based author of Lead!: How Public and Non-Profit Managers Can Bring Out the Best in Themselves and Their Organizations; Keeping Volunteers: A Guide to Volunteer Retention; and more.


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