Volunteers can do one of two things for you. They can either make your job easier or they can make your job harder. Volunteers can sometimes make your job harder because they can be inconsistent with their dedication, skills, time and talent.
You aren’t maximizing your volunteers if you are doing work that can and should be done by someone else. Pareto’s Principle otherwise known as the 80-20 rule explains that 80% of your outcomes come for 20% of your work. That means the other 80% of your work week is producing minimal impact. You need to focus your time on the important 20%, not the less important 80%. This means about 80% of your work should be given away. This allows you to focus on what matters most, allowing volunteers to have an important role in the functions of your work.
If your volunteers are just showing up for your weekly gatherings and special events and they aren’t given other responsibilities you are doing yourself and them a major injustice. Your volunteer didn’t sign up just because they needed or wanted another thing to add to their weekly schedule. They volunteered because they find value in the mission you are pursuing, so you need to share the ownership of that mission. Sharing ownership means sharing responsibility. You do that through the three key points of the volunteer management.
Recruit the right volunteers, a warm body to show up and be there isn’t the right volunteer. The right volunteer is someone invested in your mission, someone who feels tied to your purpose and is able to use their unique experience to invest in your mission. Not everyone who comes to you saying they want to volunteer is that way, your first job is to make sure theya proper fit and if they aren’t direct them to something they would find deep value doing.
Many organizations are missing the mark on how they train their volunteers.
At Axiom, we didn’t have a formal volunteer training for the first 5 years of our organization. No wonder our staff was overwhelmed, the people there to help them didn’t know how to. Training involves a few key points.
1) setting the expectation, I recommend sharing what the perfect volunteer would be like.
2) Explaining the boundaries and policy’s they need to be aware of.
3) Explaining the procedures.
4) Giving tips and tricks to being successful.
5) Getting to know them and how their unique skills and talents can be used in the mission.
6) Hands on training: For the first few day of their volunteering pair them with yourself for one night, and with an experienced volunteer another day. This provides time to introduce them to everyone and to show the ropes. By now they should have already been told what you expect, here they get to see it in action and ask questions along the way.
7) Follow up: After a month or so of them volunteering, do a follow up coffee date to gain their insights and ideas. New volunteers have a totally different perspective and they are filled with ideas that could really grow your work. They also have an outsiders lenses and are able to see problems that are occurring that you and other volunteers have missed.
* we do steps 1-4 entirely online though emails we’ve created with Mailchimp, #5 is a part of that email training too but of course we do most of that face to face.
So, you have the right volunteers now, and you’ve trained them to be amazing partners, now it’s about retention. You don’t want to invest all this time and energy just to have them fall off the map and avoid you in grocery stores. Retention is primarily based on value.
Is your volunteer feeling that they are playing a valuable role, and do they feel valued and appreciated by you their leader?
Showing up and trying to get kids to be quiet and respectful during the message at youth group, or just watching to make sure someone isn’t gonna break a leg isn’t valuable. I would also say that simply building relationships isn’t valuable because it isn’t measurable. True tangible value is always measurable. For building relationships, make that tangible by specifying like each volunteer determines 5 students that they check in in with weekly.
Give all volunteers a foundation of valuable and measurable roles, then add in specific roles according to their time, talents, and passion.
Another way to help them increase their feeling of value is communicating successes. As the leader, you probably hear about all of the successes that occur, that keeps you going! But, your volunteers need to hear those too, even if it doesn’t directly relate to them, if there is a success share it with them! Success gives fuel.
Lastly, your volunteers need to feel valued by you! Even if they personally feel a sense of value from the work they are doing you need to call that value out and say thank you. And do it more than you think it needs to be done. Do it every chance you get, and always be as specific as possible. Also, create a quarterly and annual system that allows you to acknowledge and appreciate your volunteers.
One of my favorite weeks of the year is our Axiom volunteer week. It’s a full week of loving and appreciating our volunteers. We do something different each day to show our volunteers how much they mean to us. We incorporate the 5 love languages and end the week with a big family style volunteer dinner homemade by our staff.
One of the primary reasons people begin to volunteer (knowingly or not) is because they are seeking a tribe of people, they are seeking relationships. The closer the volunteers feel to you the closer they will feel to the success of the work you are doing together, so build meaningful relationships with them and provide opportunities for them to build relationships with each other. This creates a team that is bonded and united. It’s hard to walk away from doing something with the people you are close to, so make sure your volunteers are getting close to each other.
Plan parties and retreats, get to know each other and make memories together. Even if they’re different ages and backgrounds you can still cultivate a group of unlikely friends. If an elf and a dwarf can become friends in the Lord of the Rings your different volunteers can build friendships with each other when they are united by a common purpose like throwing a powerful ring into a mountain of fire.
Focusing a part of the 20% of your time on the three key areas of volunteer management will be an investment that maximizes your work, give the other 80% of your tasks away to the equipped volunteers you’ve created.
The Five Love Languages By Gary Chapman