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The 3 Keys to Happy Volunteers

August 29, 2015

If you're a non-profit organization or community group running on a shoestring, you know that volunteers are an absolute necessity, especially when pulling off a big event! 

Volunteers are pretty amazing people. They're giving their time and effort to YOUR organization, because they believe in what you're doing and want to see you succeed. Pretty humbling stuff, right? 

Keep your volunteers engaged and happy, and they'll stick around for years. Experienced volunteers who know the ropes and need little direction (or who can even manage newer volunteers!) are worth their weight in gold. 

So how do you keep volunteers happy, engaged, and eager to lend a hand? 

It comes down to one basic principle: RESPECT.

Treat your volunteers as human beings, with lives, likes and dislikes, feelings, goals, and preferences. Too many organizations treat their volunteers like interchangeable, tireless units, to be slotted into any and every job at a whim. Don't be one of them. 

How to make sure you're respecting your volunteers? Here are three key steps.

1. Ask them what they want to do.
The second thing you should do when someone says they want to volunteer with you (the first thing is thanking them, of course!) is to find out what they actually want to do for your organization. 

One great way to do this is with a volunteer questionnaire. With this, you can get all of their contact information, and ask them to tick off the boxes for whatever tasks interest them. Ask them what days/hours are best for them. Ask them if they want to attend volunteer meetings (some don't, but will decorate a hall for you at the drop of a hat.) Find out what they want, and then enter that data into a spreadsheet or customer management software program. Then, when the time comes for the event and you need people to sell tickets, haul up all the folks who checked "selling tickets", and you're asking the people who will actually be interested in that job (and who will therefore be a lot more successful at it.) Volunteers are much more likely to stick around if they're doing things they actually enjoy.

2. Listen to their input.
Volunteers are your ears on the ground, and can have some very valuable input about how an event is run. Or they might have great ideas for future events, or even ideas for your organization as a whole. Don't dismiss their input just because they're not paid staff. These folks love your organization and want to see it thrive, but because their livelihood doesn't depend upon its success, they can be a bit more objective. So they might see things that you miss. Take their input seriously. 

3. Appreciate them -- in the way that they want. 
You really can't show enough appreciation to your volunteers. Again, these people are giving their own free time and energy. They don't have to do that, but they're doing it anyway. So be sure to show them early and often how much you appreciate them. But make sure you do it in a way that will be meaningful to them. The quiet volunteer who rarely says a word at meetings but is happy to set tables will probably be embarrassed if you haul her up on stage in front of 400 people to thank her. A nice lunch out and maybe a small gift will go a longer way. On the other hand, the center-of-attention type would be utterly thrilled with public accolades. And there isn't a volunteer in the world who doesn't appreciate a sincere handwritten note saying "Thank you -- we couldn't have done it without your help." 


Keep your volunteers happy, and not only will they have a lot more fun, but you'll keep them around a whole lot longer! 

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