Engaging your volunteers

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“How do we get good volunteers to join, contribute well and to stay?”

This is a common issue in the third sector.

We tend to seek out individuals who will put in discretionary effort to what they feel is a ‘worthwhile cause’ or respected organisation. In today’s environment, getting the most out of those volunteers depends on your ability to deliver effective communication that helps attract, up-skill and reward your volunteers.

From the moment volunteers join an organisation they are looking to fulfil personal needs driven by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors. The intrinsic drive is highest when volunteers first join an organisation: they are motivated and passionate about helping the cause. The extrinsic factors are those that you will build and offer and they will heavily influence the volunteer’s on-going experience with you.

The volunteer work cycle

When they first join they are dependent on organisational communication in order to settle in, understand the social norms and culture of the organisation, and do the work they are there to do. This is a time when volunteers are highly interactive, social and keen to contribute to organisational objectives. They will seek out those that share their enthusiasm and expect managers to help them succeed.

As volunteers settle in and adapt to their work in the organisation, they attach more and more importance to their relationships with team group members. It is at this stage that leaders play a major role in directing and developing the volunteer, helping them to acquire relevant skills and assisting them in day-to-day problems they may encounter.

Over time, volunteers begin to compare what they receive from being part of an organisation to the amount of effort they contribute, i.e. “what do I get out of it” vs. “what do I put in”. Rewards and recognition need to be relevant and appropriate to the volunteers’ contributions.

Once you have looked at the volunteer work cycle and started to make adjustments to meet the volunteers’ intrinsic needs, you can also turn your attention to how the organisation communicates.

Four areas of communication focus:

The role of leaders

The use of channels

The importance of content

Considering other audiences

Effective engagement and communication is vital in attracting and retaining volunteers. This article explores communication and engagement strategies that are relevant for volunteers and provides practical tips on how to implement them.

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