7 Tips To Successfully Motivate Volunteers In Your Organization

Photo by Mark Brannan

Photo by Mark Brannan

Motivating Volunteers Is My Life’s Work

For the last sixteen years, my primary job role has been engaging a small, unique sub-set of volunteers – the volunteer church orchestra.

In my professional opinion, this particular position has a number of unique layers of challenging volunteer motivation. Not only do I have the incredible responsibility to motivate them to show up for rehearsals and worship services, but I also have the privilege of developing them, musically. I must take a group made up of mostly “weekend warrior” musicians and strategically motivate them to grow in their musical abilities.

So, over the last sixteen years, here is the “toolbox” I have developed, mostly through trial and error, to engage and motivate my volunteers to not only show up, but to also become better musicians.

7 Tips To Motivate Your Volunteers

  1. Get personal. If you develop a personal connection with your volunteers, then there is a greater likelihood that they will stay with your organization, long-term. You must know the names of your volunteers. Knowing the names of their spouses and kids is a major bonus and will endear you to your volunteers. Also, you need to “walk around the room.” There is something very special about a leader of any organization who arrives early and stays late just to connect with those he is leading.
  2. Mail them hand-written cards. You should regularly thank your volunteers via spoken word and email communication. This is a given. What will set you apart from others, though, is mailing them hand-written thank you, birthday, and anniversary cards. Why is this so effective? Because hardly anybody does it anymore; it’s too much work for a lot of people. Your volunteers will truly appreciate that you took additional time out of your busy schedule to provide that personal touch.
  3. Honor their time. You need to have a schedule and stick to it 99% of the time. If you ask your volunteers to be present at a specific time, then you need to start on time. If you give them an end time, then you need to end on time. Yes, there will be special circumstances when you may need to flex your start and end times, but make that a rare exception and not the rule. With our ever increasingly busy lives, people appreciate those who can stay on a firm schedule.
  4. Be prepared. Organize their work, whatever it is. You as the leader need to have your own “ducks in a row” as well. Your volunteers will greatly appreciate all of their work resources being organized and accessible as soon as they arrive to volunteer for you.
  5. Communicate the mission. Have you ever heard about the psychology study that included asking people to dig ditches, fill them back in, and ever-increasing monetary compensation for them showing back up the next day to do the exact same task? This supposed psychology study found that people who were hired to dig ditches for half a day and then directed to fill them back in the second half of the day, were less likely to return to work the next day, even if their pay was increased. Why is this? People need to know that their work matters and has some greater overall purpose. As you lead your volunteers, you must communicate the mission of your organization on a regular basis. Say it verbally. Write it down in your thank you cards. Place it prominently in your newsletters. The more your volunteers hear the mission and connect with it, the greater the likelihood that they will keep showing up to volunteer.
  6. Admit when you mess up. In my opinion, the worst leaders are the ones who can never admit they made a mistake. That’s plain dumb. We’re human beings and we all make mistakes. Your volunteers will appreciate you more if you just confess it and ask for forgiveness. Being stubborn about your failings will send your volunteers out the back door, over time.
  7. Celebrate! Every time your volunteer organization moves successfully through a project or special event, you should celebrate. Throw a little party of some type in order to pause, reflect, as well as say to your group, “Yea! We did it!” Too many times, we just blast on through to the next project and ask our people, “what have you done for me lately?” This is probably not the best way to retain your volunteers. Figure out creative, meaningful ways to celebrate your victories and at the same time show appreciation to your volunteers.

Questions: Are you a leader of a mostly volunteer organization? What do you think of these 7 specific tips? Which ones do you use to motivate your volunteers? Do you have any additional tips in your toolbox? Feel free to share your ideas with the community by leaving us a comment below.