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Find tips to oversee the work of volunteers and practical suggestions to supervise them. Everything from ideas to help you work more efficiently to the latest in research on keeping volunteers happy and productive.

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~ October 2004 ~ Topics

Motivation: Seven Must Haves

Different people have different motivational needs. In fact, the same volunteer can change motivational needs if he/she stays with a program for a long time. The manager of volunteers needs to have elements in the program that have the capacity to satisfy various motivational needs. Here are the basic seven needs and some tips on how to provide them in a volunteer program.
Motivational Basic Seven

Safety/Security Working in a safe environment with few hazards or managed hazards. It includes predictable job tasks.
  • Consider the safety of your location; transportation to it, parking. During recruitment provide information on how you manage security issues.
  • Be sure that position descriptions are clear and consistent with the way the work is done now. No surprises.
  • Equipment is well maintained and safe.
Fair play Volunteers want to be treated fairly. Volunteers talk to each other and make comparisons about how they are treated.
  • Never play favorites.
  • Give volunteers equal opportunities for leadership roles or "plum" assignments.
  • In publicity on the program highlight a wide variety of people.
Affiliation Some volunteers enjoy interaction with other volunteers, as well as clients, members, or patrons.
  • Plan social events for volunteers that are low-key and conveniently timed.
  • Create planning and implementation committees for any and all projects. Never go it alone.
Respect Some volunteers need to know they are respected and held in high esteem for the work they do.
  • Have a consistent and fair awards and recognition program.
  • Provide lots of feedback to volunteers.
  • Have a consistent plan for public recognition aside from the awards program.
Autonomy Some volunteers prefer autonomy and independence in work assignments.
  • Be sure there are positions where volunteers can set their own hours.
  • Consult volunteers on the choices they can make about the work they do.
  • Allow for some positions where the timing can be set by the volunteer.
  • Be sure to have episodic and long term volunteer positions available.
Achievement Some volunteers are motivated by the achievements of the program's mission or goals.
  • Gather information on outcome measures and publicize it widely.
  • Give the volunteers challenging work.
  • Provide feedback on the work done by volunteers; individually and as a group.
Power Volunteers with power needs are motivated by their ability to influence others and control the outcome of a project.
  • Provide opportunities for leadership.
  • Rotate committee chair positions to allow people to grow leadership skills.
  • Give these volunteers the opportunity to publicly persuade others of the value of the program.

Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for Volunteer Management: Mobilizing All the Resources of the Community, authored by Steve McCurley and Rick Lynch, and Building Effective Volunteer Committess, authored by Nancy Macduff.

Details for Volunteer Management Book Details for Building Effective Volunteer Committees Book

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Consider the Volunteer Perk

Volunteers give time freely to organizations. What do they get back? There are a raft of intangibles - see the article above for a list of those things. But organizations can also provide "tangible" perks. This is common in business and can be a motivator to retain volunteers.

Begin by making a list of things done for volunteers in your program. Then get some new ideas from the list below.

  • Parking near the building where the volunteers work
  • Name badges
  • Free coffee, tea, or other beverages
  • Safe place to put valuables or hang coats or sweaters
  • Attractive clothing that serves to identify volunteers
  • If the organization has a cafeteria, reduced cost coupons when the volunteer works all day
  • Reduced cost of tickets for special events
  • Get restaurants to donate one meal free for a second purchased meal. Randomly award them to volunteers once per month
  • 10 gallons of gasoline for awarding to volunteers
  • Arrange for produce to be donated; tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, and make available for volunteers.

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Humor Used Wisely

Irish or Polish jokes are in bad taste, and dumb blonde jokes are surely politically incorrect. Whether you approve or not, the use of humor in the work place has undergone a change. There is a whole new perspective on what is acceptable. Volunteers enjoy fun and good humor, even when they work in a challenging and potentially grim environment. Here are some tips to lighten the load for volunteers and paid staff and stay within the boundaries of acceptable workplace humor.

  • Poke fun at yourself. Laughing at yourself shows you as an accessible person. And it demonstrates that you do not take yourself too seriously. Example: "My office is such a mess that I need a TV show to come and reorganize it for me."
  • Situations faced by the team: joking about things that the team of volunteers faces is acceptable. Hardworking volunteers often put in late hours to get ready for big events, or the team survives the installation of a new computer system, or remodeling of a bathroom. Example: "When this thing is done, we'll probably be two years older, even though it's only been six hours since we started on this!"
  • Volunteer quirks: while it is totally inappropriate to joke about race/ethnicity and physical characteristics, people are often less sensitive about their "personality" traits. Humor statements about those (as long as it is not over done) can lighten the atmosphere. Example: "We are delighted Betsy is here, but we all know she would rather be hiking."


Washington State University offers a Volunteer Management Certification Program through the Internet. Individuals around the world can earn a certificate in managing or coordinating volunteers, without leaving home. For more information, visit Volunteer Today's Portal site, Internet Resources. Look for the Washington State University listing. There is a hot link to their Web site.

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