Volunteers are the heartbeat of any charity. They are essential in helping you to reach your charity’s overriding objectives. Yet, like with any relationship, it can break down, fizzle out and even turn sour if not managed effectively. What can your charity do to build strong and long-lasting relationships with your volunteers so that they are not only happy and stay on board, but become an advocate for your charity?
Make your first impression count
As discussed in a previous blog, first impressions are really important to potential volunteers thinking about joining your charitable cause. So “dress to impress” for the first date by making sure the application process is simple and a formal on-boarding procedure is in place to help attract volunteers in the first instance. It will also give them the confidence that they will be looked after and are part of a professional organisation.
Give and take
Keeping volunteers engaged and enthused can be a challenge. Just like paid staff, retention isn’t an exact science to measure management success by. Naturally, people move on. But that said, longer serving teams are stronger than teams of new recruits, if morale is high.
- Avoid volunteer under-utilisation: volunteers join causes in order to make a difference, and being under-utilised undermines their original intentions. It is clear how and why it happens. Volunteer leaders are left with a tightrope task of balancing the right volume of work in line with not becoming too dependent on voluntary resource. Ensure individuals and teams are working towards multiple objectives, including short-term priority tasks, as well as medium-term goals.
- It’s good to talk: non-paid members of the team also have a hierarchy of needs that leaders need to address. Charities can indirectly prove how much the organisation values its volunteers by putting in measures to encourage a community atmosphere amongst your teams. Regular engagement is the key to success.
Don’t take them for granted
A lack of recognition is a regular recurring motivation for supporters to take a step back from a cause. Jamie Ward-Smith, founder of Do-it Trust – a volunteer organisation – advises charities to avoid volunteer loss by simply making time to say ‘thank you’. “Whilst most volunteers don’t expect a big fuss, making sure they know they are appreciated will make the difference to their coming back and recommending you to their friends.”
People need to feel connected to the cause of your charity, to feel part of something. That means your mission, values and journey need to be communicated as effectively as possible. And this communication shouldn’t be a one-way street. The views of a volunteer are a window into the world of the people you’re trying to help. Asking for feedback and their opinions will help the volunteer to feel valued and help you to deliver a service that makes a difference. Increasing communication horizontally, between managers and volunteers, will create a sense of understanding between teams and provide support for both sides.
A professional volunteer management system can help you to effectively manage your volunteers, as it places emphasis on how much the charitable organisation values its working relationships. It provides charities with the tools to easily and effectively communicate gratitude and personalised communications. And lastly, it can capture volunteer activity on a person-by-person, team-by-team or even campaign-by-campaign level; helping charities to identify their own values and metrics behind their good work.