Volunteering is an important and essential contribution from all members of society to help others, ourselves and to keep life running smoothly. But it’s possible to overextend yourself and experience burnout. A organisation such as Dreams to Reality, of all places, needs to understand the importance of taking care of their volunteers, which is why we do the following to ensure that volunteers remain happy:
Many of us at some point have worked in the temp world. A common experience is to be sent to an office to work only to find that the office is unprepared. So you sit around trying to look busy when really you are twiddling your thumbs. Don’t let this happen to your volunteers. The temp worker, after all, needs the money and will likely put up with this, but your applicants will see you as disorganized and inconsiderate. Don’t bring a anybody in until you have everything worked out, from the job description to a place to work with proper equipment, to something to do immediately.
Make volunteers feel welcomed
Act as though your volunteer is a guest in your home. Show them around. Introduce them to your staff and others in the program, have your executive director drop by and say hello and thanks. Don’t let them feel uncomfortable for a minute. Show that your organization is warm, friendly, helpful, and happy to see your them.
Provide good training
Even if the task assigned is a simple one, take the time to explain it, demonstrate it, and mentor the volunteer through the first few hours. Provide a buddy, another person in your program who is experienced, to help the new one.
When training a group of volunteers, be sure to use adult learning techniques such as group involvement. Volunteers don’t want to be lectured to. They want to participate in the training. Include in your training clear expectations for them. Let them know what the job entails and the quality measures that you will use to evaluate their work.
Provide jobs of interest
Most people are willing to roll their sleeves up and do physical labor as long as it is meaningful. But grunt work is out. Do not use volunteers to do the tasks your staff doesn’t want to do. Envelope licking, wheelchair pushing, and mindless filing do not appeal to modern volunteers. Think of them as extra staff who are capable of performing complex tasks that take advantage of their experience and skills. Provide leadership opportunities to those who are willing and have the time to shoulder more responsibility.
Set work times
Everyone is busier than ever, and many volunteers may only have time for short term assignments. Project-oriented, rather than ongoing, assignments seem to work particularly well. Decide how much time your job will need and include that when you publicize your volunteer position.
Will it take 6 hours a week that can be done over three days? Does it need to be done on a weekend? Do you need your volunteer for the summer, for a season? Does the volunteer need to be available from 2 to 4 p.m. during the week?
Provide lots of options so that you can appeal to a busy soccer mom as well as the retiree who has more time.
They want to be appreciated
Tell your volunteers frequently that they are doing a good job. Although you will want to come up with some creative ways of formally saying thanks, don’t overlook the power of a simple gesture such as taking them to lunch, providing a small gift, or sending a thank you card to their home.
Regular communication is motivating for volunteers, while the lack of it is one of the chief reasons people become dissatisfied. It’s good to have a particular person look after them. If your organization does not have a program coordinator, be sure to assign someone to be the point person for your program participants.
Be ready to listen to volunteers and respond to concerns immediately. Telephone them, have meetings, invite them to stop by your office, send info via social media, or email them regular updates or a newsletter.
Let your volunteers know how they are making a difference. Share success stories about your clients and programs. Bring them up-to-date on progress toward your organization’s goals. Let them see your work in action through tours, presentations on the issues by your experts, and by inviting them to provide suggestions about how your work can be done even better.