In a time of shrinking budgets, and even when funding is plentiful, volunteers are the heart and soul of your organization, event, or project. However, when you get deep into your work, remembering to motivate your volunteers often moves to the back burner in terms of your priorities. Getting caught up in daily activities or feeling as if success is a long way off can cause burnout and frustration for both you and your team of volunteers.
In order to keep morale and productivity high, here are some tips for keeping your volunteers motivated.
Learn about individual volunteers. Have them define what’s in it for them. What drives their desire to volunteer? Do they want recognition, to be a part of a social movement, or simply to feel the satisfaction of serving others? You should periodically ask for feedback about what is and isn’t working to let them know that you value them as team members.
Bring the issue to life for them with examples or experiences. Are you a local agency that works with the homeless? Get out of the office and onto the streets, encouraging your volunteers to meet the people you serve. Seeing the tangible results of your efforts will help create buy-in for your mission.
Be an organized leader. You should have a clear vision and a long-term plan that you can share with your volunteers. Providing a basic road map with a specific destination will get more people to come along for the ride.
Create teams to make the work more manageable. If you’re lucky enough to have a large volunteer pool, divide them into smaller groups and play to their individual strengths when assigning work.
Assign roles and delegate tasks. This will help avoid confusion about who’s doing what and ensure that all necessary work is completed. Be as specific as you can about deadlines and other expectations.
Don’t spend too much time in meetings. If you can help it, don’t burden your volunteers with tedious administrative tasks, either. Giving them only mundane work will cause them to become jaded—or worse, it will make them feel that their time isn’t valued.
Show them your appreciation often and reward them. Think food, which is always a welcome reward! In addition, show your appreciation by acknowledging that volunteers have lives outside of your work. Be sure to respect their other commitments and thank them, thank them, and thank them some more.
Provide training. Whether it’s on site or at an educational conference, participating in training can help your volunteers feel more invested in the cause and caught up on current developments in the field.
Don’t be too serious! Even if your work involves fighting injustice or addressing a serious issue, find the joy in your work and make time to relax and laugh each day. Encouraging your volunteers to do the same can relieve stress and promote a positive working environment. Plan a day to do nothing work-related and just hang out, sharing a pizza or having an impromptu ball game.
If you’ve ever volunteered for a project, you know how important motivation can be to reaching your goals. Keep these tips in mind for motivating your own volunteers, and the experience will be rewarding for everyone involved.