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3 Surefire Ways to Engage the Best Volunteers

January 23, 2016

Happy_volunteersOver 60 million people spend an average of 52 hours a year volunteering their time with nonprofit organizations. Many organizations agree that volunteers are critical to their overall health and play a role in their ability to become, and remain, sustainable. Volunteers serve many functions; they can help deliver client programs, create awareness about mission and impact, and keep staff costs reasonable. But having volunteers can be a lot of work!

Before evaluating an existing volunteer program or embarking on a new one, determine what motivates your volunteers and then work toward creating, and supporting, a program that best serves their needs while advancing your mission. I recommend using the "3 R's for Happy Volunteers" as a framework for the internal conversations that will help structure your program:

Relevant. Volunteers feel most productive when their time is connected to their particular interests and skills. Volunteers excel when they feel they're in a position to leverage their expertise in service to a greater purpose. To generate maximum volunteer productivity, interview prospective volunteers to understand their motivations, skill sets, and interests before assigning them a task.

Realistic. The typical volunteer is between 35 and 64 years old and is employed. Statistically, most people who volunteer also volunteer for more than one organization. In other words, your typical volunteer leads a busy life! When structuring a volunteer program, consider the scope of the tasks being assigned. Your goal should be to expand the capacity of your organization using volunteer know-how and enthusiasm while providing your volunteers with tasks that can be accomplished without overwhelming them (i.e., some of the larger, longer-term tasks on your to-do list may require a team of volunteers working in concert with a staff member).

Rewarding. People volunteer in part so they can feel good about making a contribution to their community. When developing a volunteer program, therefore, focus on providing high-touch, meaningful work that your volunteers will be proud to talk about with their networks, colleagues, and friends. And in those cases where the work that needs to be done is more administrative or mundane in nature (see "Relevant" above), make an effort to match the right volunteer to the task. As with donors, volunteers thrive on and respond to recognition and appreciation for their efforts.

Bottom line: Happy volunteers help drive the effectiveness of our organizations, make our lives easier, and are more likely to become both financial supporters of and advocates for our cause!

Want to learn more about creating a volunteer program that meets the needs of your volunteers and your organization? Then join me for "Build a Successful Volunteer Program," a Foundation Center webinar, on February 9, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. ET. We'll talk about the questions you should ask before inviting volunteers into your organization, practical tips for choosing the right volunteers, and tactics you can use to effectively recognize and retain valuable volunteer talent. We'll also focus on practical information you can use right away to create more meaningful and lasting volunteer engagement.

New York City-based Marti Fischer is an entrepreneur, radio host, teacher, career coach, and nonprofit development consultant who helps individuals and organizations hone their communication skills in order to "Achieve Their Next." Marti can be reached through her website www.martifischergroup.com.

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