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Visit this page for ideas, suggestions and hints to build volunteer recruitment capacity.

~ August 2005 ~ Topics

Keeping Volunteers Happy

Volunteers can leave a program or organization if they are unhappy or unmotivated. Here are some tips to keep happy volunteers.

    • What did you learn from volunteers this week? Here is a quick test to make sure you are really listening to those volunteers. Every Friday afternoon make a list of the things you learned from volunteers in the preceding week. If you list two or three items, it shows you are listening and the volunteers will notice.
    • There are special people in most organizations-an administrator, or deputy administrator, executive director or deputy, finance director, a person visiting from "headquarters," a speaker, the list goes on. Have a quarterly "brown bag" lunch with a "special person" and invite volunteers. Not a time for speech making, but just the informal gathering of volunteers with people of importance to the organization.
    • Capitalize on special skills. New volunteers often bring skill in addition to those being performed for the organization. Find out about those skills and put them to work in the organization. Say a person with lots of experience in advertising and marketing is new to the organization and is tutoring children. Ask if the person will help with the design of a recruitment campaign by helping design brochures or Web ads.
    • "The Bosses Checklist." Sit down and write a description of things you would like your supervisor to have as managerial characteristics. "Give honest feedback." "Do not hold grudges." "Give clear instructions." Then follow those items when supervising volunteers.
    • Say thanks to the invisible volunteer. Many volunteers do things that are not visible; keep up a database, schedule other volunteers, write thank you letters for you, or do janitorial work for the organization. Be sure to say thanks, and publicly, for all the effort.
    • Questions. Develop a list of questions to ask volunteers. "How has it gone today?" "Is today different from the last time you were here?" "Any suggestions?" Visit with different volunteers each week and ask these questions. It is a morale booster and good way to learn about the attitudes of volunteers.
    • Make flexibility an option. Volunteers are sometimes shy about asking for flexibility in a work assignment. Make sure volunteers know that changing hours or locations is always a discussible item. Highlight it in training, write articles in the newsletter, urge volunteers to share examples of flexibility, and write it into handbooks.

Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for: Volunteer Recruiting & Retention: A Marketing Approach, by Nancy Macduff and To Lead is to Serve, by Shar McBee.

Details for Volunteer Recruiting & Retention Book Details for To Lead Book

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GEN X and Work

In some places there has been a bias against working with younger volunteers. There are those who believe that the Generation X (those born between 1964-1975) are self-absorbed, slackers and job hoppers. Turns out the "conventional wisdom" may be wrong. In a study of 1200 GenX working professionals, 47% said that spending the rest of their career with their current employer would make them happy. 85% said their current employers future was important to them. 83% said they would go above and beyond to help the company succeed. 75% said they were happy they chose their current employer. Hmmmm. Time to rethink those attitudes about GenXers and volunteering.

*”Survey Reveals the X Factor, by Anne Bond Emerich in the Grand Rapids Business Journal. This was a report of a study conducted by GE and Ernst & Young.

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Master the "Hiring" Process

Recruiting volunteers is much like the hiring process, when done well a volunteer stays in place for a reasonable amount of time and is satisfied with the work done. When done poorly there is a revolving door with volunteers in and out faster than a speeding bullet! When a long term volunteer leaves panic sets in to recruit someone to replace him/her. Here are some tips to help: before you recruit and while you are interviewing.

Before Recruitment
Who else can do the job? Look around at other volunteers and see who might be a good candidate to take over the position. Trouble figuring out who? Write a list of the ideal characteristics for the position and then look around the current list of volunteers to see if someone fits that list of characteristics.
Analyze before recruiting. Take the time to review position descriptions before you leap into recruiting. The person leaving may have been doing the job for 10 years. Today more volunteers want short-term jobs. Can the current job be parsed into smaller pieces, hence recruiting people for shorter-term service. Can you reorganize the way things are done, with new position descriptions, and new ways of service. Look at all options before recruiting for the "same old thing."
When you start to recruit ask for help from current volunteers. The best recruiter of volunteers is another volunteer. Someone in the current group of volunteers may know someone who would be perfect for the position. Widely circulate the position description amongst current volunteers.
Maintain high standards. Do not panic. Write on a piece of paper you see each day, "I will keep my standards high." Do not give in to desperation and pick the wrong person for a key position.

Interview and Selection
When you are selecting new volunteers look for people who produce. Anyone can complete an application, but who has a track record in his/her previous volunteer or work life. Even if the individual is unfamiliar with your organization, the producer, who is also a quick learner, is an ideal choice for the position.
Want to know if a volunteer will fit? Let them spend some time with real volunteers doing the job. Make sure the prospective volunteer is with current volunteers you trust. Urge them to have coffee or lunch with the prospective candidate for the position. Each side will learn about the other during that informal time.
Get some good questions. Have interview questions for volunteers that reveal how they will work in your setting. "Tell what you liked about the last volunteer position you had? What didn't you like?"
Are you looking for a team player? Some organizations have volunteers who work quite independently of other volunteers, but in many situations the volunteer becomes part of a volunteer and staff team. . .so teamwork skills are essential. Ask if the person has worked on a team and to describe that experience. Then start counting the number of times they use "I" rather than "we." This is a good indicator of whether he/she is really a team player.
Take notes during an interview. Some studies have shown that 75% of the information gained in an interview is lost, unless recorded. You need your own codes for information to remind you of personal characteristics or skills.

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The Points of Light Foundation has forms available to nominate volunteers and volunteer organizations for the Daily Points of Light Award. It is designed recognize individuals and groups that demonstrate unique and innovative approaches to community volunteering and citizen action, with a strong emphasis on service focused on the goals for children and young people set by the Presidents Summit for American's Future. The award is given five days a week, excluding holidays. If you would like nomination forms, call 202-729-8000.


By calling 1-800-VOLUNTEER in the U.S., individuals can be connected to their local volunteer center. This is a national interactive call routing system designed to get volunteers connected to people who can help them volunteer.

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