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

~ February 2007 ~ Topics

Tips on Recognition
Episodic Volunteer Organization and Motivation
Attracting Generation Y Volunteers

Tips on Recognition

Frequent recognition of the efforts of volunteers is one key to success in managing volunteers. Most managers are fine with the "big" stuff—certificates, National Volunteer Day celebrations, the luncheon, the picnic, or big potluck supper. It is the day-to-day recognition however, that is most often cited by volunteers as being the most meaningful. Here are a few tips to add to your bag of recognition ideas.

Put 5 pennies in a pocket each day. As you offer recognition on a personal level, transfer those pennies to another pocket or to a jar on your desk. It seems like a corny notion, but doing it regularly might provide some extra $ for the next vacation or shopping trip. And it is a tangible reminder of your efforts at recognition.
At the end of the day when the brain cells are struggling to make sense of anything write short appreciate notes to volunteers or paid staff who are especially effective working with volunteers.
On any trip to a bookstore or place like Target or Wal-Mart, look for postcards that are on sale. Use them for the special thank you notes. Not expensive, cute pictures, and loved by those who receive them.
Do you make a weekly or daily to do list? Put those people who deserve recognition on that list. Cross off names as you praise or acknowledge their work.
Stuck in traffic often? Use your cell phone to give thank IOUs to volunteers. Keep a phone list in the car and call their work number, so when they arrive at work the next day, the first message heard is one thanking them for being a volunteer.

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Episodic Volunteer Organization and Motivation

Episodic volunteers come in different varieties, like pears and peaches. Some arrive once and never return, some come for a short stints—like an intern, but leave at the end of three months, others come back for one activity or event that occurs annually. . .but not anything else. So how can you motivate these people who interact with your organization infrequently? Here are some ideas to help you.

Offer flexible schedules. No matter the type of episodic volunteer the idea of flexibility in scheduling is mighty appealing. The person's life situation likely does not allow for a "regular" schedule of anything. Your willingness to take the person as he/she is will be appreciated (and likely repeated to friends and family—always good publicity). For the potential returnee episodic volunteer this flexibility means a great deal and might help you keep the person for several years.
Build a team. Involving and training experienced traditional volunteers (the regulars) to work with episodic volunteers can be a big motivator. Being made to feel welcome when you are only at an organization for a few hours is a good motivational tool. It also gives the experienced volunteer a sense of connection with the new short time volunteers, rather than hard feelings. But, the experienced traditional volunteers needs training on such things as how to train in a hurry, how to praise, how to correct, and how not to coerce people to sign on as a full time volunteer. The person was recruited for short-term service and should be acknowledged for that and not badgered to sign on for more hours.
Mix the workload. Short term volunteers often get the "grunt" or "no-brainer" tasks while the more experienced volunteer who knows the ropes gets the fun tasks. Work hard to mix duties for short-term volunteers. If the volunteer is willing, provide several different tasks during their stay. The person can do something "new" during his/her experience with the organization. Boring, repetitious work can be demoralizing. Better the episodic volunteer should leave an interesting experience and something to share with friends and family.
Create a mentor corps. Not all short–term or episodic volunteers need mentors, but a cadre of experienced traditional volunteers could be trained to serve as mentors to several volunteers simultaneously. If episodic volunteers are used for a big event, one trained mentor can likely keep tabs on 20-30 episodic volunteers during the course of the day. The mentor's role is to be a welcomer, coach, friend, and make the person feel part of the team. The mentor is a person who needs to be open to "stupid questions" and a pal when something goes awry. Mentors should not be the volunteer's supervisor.
Orientation is key. Volunteers of all types are put off by not knowing what is to be done. Episodic volunteers are particularly susceptible to feelings of inadequacies, unless he/she is properly trained. Bring a team of experienced volunteers together with the challenge of planning a 15-minute orientation for episodic volunteers. It might include pre-information online, through email or a website, or be face-to-face at the work site. It should include things like the location of bathrooms, where to put personal belongings that is safe, rules about phone calls, forms to fill out, purpose of work, and a million other things. But, 15 minutes is the limit. Trained part-time volunteers are happy volunteers.

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Attracting Generation Y Volunteers

The periodical American Demographics typically uses 1976 to demarcate the start of Generation Y, the demographers Howe and Strauss have consistently used "the High School class of 2000," or those born in 1982 as their demarcation. Howe and Strauss call them Millennia's and the term Net Generation is also used.

While many possible years are used as the endpoint of Generation Y, the term is almost never applied to current infants, who are part of a possibly as yet unnamed generation. Due to the flexible nature of such demographic terms, two people of the same birth year can identify as either Generation X, Y, or something that follows Y, such as the New Silent Generation and neither is wrong.

If the years 1978-2000 are used, as is common in market research, then the size of Generation Y in the United States is approximately 76 million.

Whatever you call them, this group is volunteering during their formative school years and some are entering the work force. Here are some things shown to attract these people –to work and play. What do you have available in your organization to attract this new volunteer cohort?

  • Fun in the working environment
  • Opportunity to grow and learn
  • Wide range of activities
  • Some benefits to volunteering
  • Opportunity to learn new skills while volunteering
  • Flexible schedules
  • Chance to travel and/or experience new environments

Adapted from "Understand Y: Learn How to Recruit Generation Y Workers and to Make them Stay," by Christine Luporter, on the WomenConnect Web site.

Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for: Episodic Volunteering: Organizing and Managing the Short-Term Volunteer Program, (now available in downloadable PDF format) by Nancy Macduff and The One Minute Answer to Volunteer Management Questions, by Mary Kay Hood.

Details for Episodic Volunteering Book Details for One Miinue Answer Book


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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