How to keep volunteers happy
Volunteers can be the life's blood of nonprofit organizations. Without individuals willing to donate their time, charities facing tight budgets may not have sufficient personnel to achieve their goals. Organizations who rely heavily on volunteers can take the following steps to ensure their volunteers know their efforts are appreciated.
* Create a welcoming environment. No matter how many times a person volunteers, he or she will feel like the new kid in town on his or her first day with a new organization. Make new volunteers feel welcome, giving them a guided tour during which you introduce them to fellow volunteers and full- or part-time staff members. An environment that is warm and welcoming from the moment a volunteer arrives will make the experience better for all involved.
* Maintain an open door policy. Volunteers should feel comfortable conversing with executive directors and other higher-ups at the organization. Encourage the sharing of ideas, even with executives high up on the totem pole. Directors can meet with staff members to illustrate how everyone is working together and no one carries greater importance than another in the organization.
* Be prepared for volunteers. Volunteers are giving their time and expecting nothing in return. Walking into an office that is not prepared for a volunteer may lead the volunteer to view the organization as unorganized or one that lacks dedication. Charities should have a clear plan in place with regard to the duties of volunteers. There should be a desk area or computer available when necessary. In addition, be sure to have work immediately available so the volunteer won't be sitting around with little to do.
* Clearly spell out time constraints. Volunteers often find time to volunteer while juggling their day jobs and responsibilities at home, and not everyone has the same amount of time available to devote to a charity. Therefore, being up front with how much time a project is expected to take can help a volunteer gauge if he or she will be able to assist. Decide how much time the job will need, and be honest with potential volunteers during interviews or when advertising openings.
* Give frequent praise. Let volunteers know their work is appreciated. Come up with ways to show your appreciation, be it taking volunteers out to lunch, providing snacks or other treats around the office or accommodating their personal schedules. Each of these efforts shows volunteers that you have their best interests in mind.
* Provide proof of success. Keep volunteers informed about the fruits of their labors. Share notes of gratitude from those who have benefited from your organization's efforts with the staff. Single out volunteers who played key roles in making changes happen. Frequent encouragement and proof of success will raise spirits and reassure volunteers that their efforts are worthwhile.