Working With Volunteers Made Easy

Working with volunteers can be the most rewarding experience or the most frustrating. Numerous non-profit organizations across the nation rely on volunteers to stuff envelopes, raise money, pick up litter, and donate their time to the cause. It isn’t always easy, but working without volunteers is a frightening possibility for many organizations.

Perhaps due to hectic living, volunteering rates are falling. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the volunteer rates have dropped from 28.8% in 2003 to 25.3% in 2014. That rate didn’t change from 25.4 % in 2013. To put it another way, “about 62.8 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2013 and September 2014.”

Volunteers are the heart and soul of groups school parent teacher organizations, food banks, community shelters, and churches. But it’s increasingly harder to find volunteers who can give their time and passion to an organization. We live in a two-income society and families juggle school, jobs and and financial responsibilities. Finding free time on weekends is almost out of the question.

62.8 million is a huge number of people with creative, innovative ideas just waiting to put their skills to use for a mission in which they believe. And volunteers are a valuable, irreplaceable resource. How can organizations keep the volunteers they need and recruit new ones?

There is a lot of competition out there, but some volunteer-based organizations fare better than others. How do successful organizations keep so many volunteers inspired and dedicated?

Working With Volunteers in ways Motivate, Excite and Show Respect

  1. Keep your promises. When a staff member promises a phone call, a meeting, a decision or piece of information, it is imperative that they follow through on the promise. If you want to rely on your volunteers, first, show them they can rely on you.
  2. Make it personal. Some send out handwritten notes to a few key volunteers, some take the time to write notes to every single volunteer they work with. Since a number of staff were once volunteers for their organization, they have affirmed the importance of this personal gesture. It’s also a good idea to learn something personal about your volunteer and be able to mention that topic. Does the volunteer love to talk about their children or pets? Ask how their loved ones are doing and show that you care about them as people, not just valuable resources.
  3. It’s ok to care. It may be your job to raise money for cancer, or for heart disease, or for the local park. But it’s also important to let your volunteers know this is a cause you believe in and that you are emotionally invested. Working with volunteers means sharing emotions and the reasons why the mission matters. Sadness can motivate people, but hope can, too.
  4. Feed them! Food is as powerful a motivator more than any other method. Nothing makes a committee meeting on a Wednesday night easier to bear than food. Anything from chocolate to tea and cookies seems to make people feel appreciated and keep them coming back to help.
  5. WIIFM – What’s in it for me? Finding a person’s WIIFM, or what it is they hope to get out of the volunteer experience, is a great way to make sure they are always satisfied with their responsibilities. Before you being working with volunteers, find out what their goals are. Some people just want to work on the day of the event, helping with registration or handing out buttons. Others want to be a part of the committee and assist with all the planning details. Learn what your volunteers want, and help them achieve that. They will love their time with your organization and return.
  6. Recognition. Not every volunteer is working to get an award, but some are. Some volunteers need to know that their efforts have made a big difference and public recognition is just what they need to feel appreciated and renew their commitment. Yearly volunteer recognition dinners give many of volunteers a chance to shine. But some volunteers prefer a more private show of appreciation. Meet them for lunch, send special thank-yous. They need to feel wanted.
  7. Have fun. Events like 5Ks and mini-golf outings and festivals and attract people because they are FUN. Combine a fantastic event with your mission and keep those volunteers coming back year after year.

Working with volunteers is an art. For more ideas on how to express gratitude to your volunteers, get a copy of Thanks! 100 Wonderful Ways to Appreciate Volunteers. 

thank volunteers, working with volunteers

Don’t Forget to Thank Volunteers

Thank You Notes from Kids

thank you kids thank you notes

Good habits start early

Do you send thank you notes?

Have you ever forgotten to send a thank you note?

I volunteered at our elementary school this month helping with an assembly and the launch of a new school activity, Kids of STEEL. Kids who join this program will get to run together once a week and learn about healthy eating. It’s right up my alley.

But after the assembly ended, our PTO president and principal realized they had forgotten to unroll the giant thank you sign they had created for these kinds of events.

“There’s just so much going on,” lamented our PTO president.

So I opened my big mouth and made this suggestion: “Let the kids take over saying thanks. Have the student government put together a gratitude team, and they can write thank you notes to volunteers and guests.”

We discussed photographing the large thank you sign and creating custom thank you cards. The principal is taking the idea to the teacher who advises student government, and I am hopeful they will give it a try.

The PTO can still write notes or send emails, but I think involving the kids has so many benefits. Writing thank you notes as a kid is almost as important eating healthy and exercises. Writing thank you notes is a physical, active way to help my children develop a strong sense of gratitude. I know that feeling gratitude can go a long way toward helping a child feel happy and satisfied in whatever path they follow in life.

Gratitude and Thank You Notes

I recently finished local Pittsburgh author Britt Reints’ book An Amateur’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness. Reints dedicates an entire chapter to the science of gratitude. She cites research that argues when we feel and express gratitude, we are happier. She also emphasizes that gratitude is not the same as feeling indebted, and I am working hard to help my children understand the subtle difference there.

Working with volunteers gives me many times to feel and share my gratitude. Over the past ten years, I have often found myself struggling to find ways to express my gratitude that matches the value of the gifts these volunteers have shared. I collected a list of the 100 most creative and relevant ways I’ve said thanks to volunteers and these ideas are available to you as an e-book called Thanks! 100 Ways to Appreciate Volunteers.

Should you force it?

Some families don’t have a habit of writing thank you notes. I often give my grandmother credit for building the habit for me, but really my mom was just as influential. She would often say, “Write the thank you note, or we’ll never hear the end of it from your grandmother.” I guess they had a pretty effective good cop/bad cop system going because even now I say those things to my children.

Technology offers lots of ways to say thank you now beyond the traditional handwritten note. And my family has used a variety of them, like the photo at the top of this blog. But we never abandon the thank you note completely. I do agree that the way we say thank you isn’t as important as remembering to do it in the first place. A true, heartfelt “thank you” is all we need to offer.

I have two requests for feedback here:

Do you value handwritten note more or less than other ways of showing gratitude?

What creative ways you have helped your children – or you have used yourself – to express gratitude?