Volunteer management

Inspire, engage and celebrate your volunteers

Cathy Shimmin talks through some ways that you can inspire and engage your volunteers.

Volunteering has got to be the ‘win-win for all’ scenario. Ultimately, most importantly, the people and causes our charities serve, will benefit. In the process, our charity sector benefits to the tune of nearly £20 billion annually, through volunteer time. And what do volunteers get? Well, that depends on you.

In the government’s Community Life Survey 2021, volunteers were asked for the reasons they give their time. Here are the top 5:

  • I thought it would give me a chance to use my existing skills 24%
  • I felt there was a need in my community 25%
  • I had spare time to do it 27%
  • The cause was really important to me 33%
  • I wanted to improve things/help people 50%

According to the NCVO UK Civil Society Almanac, 9 in 10 volunteers say one of the benefits of volunteering is meeting new people, and, while the age group 25 to 34 are the least likely age group to volunteer, 76% of them are most likely to say volunteering helped them feel less isolated. In the same report, 77% of volunteers reported that volunteering improved their mental health and well-being.

The data suggests then, that a handful of things we can do will help make volunteers feel valued.

  • Remind them and help them to feel like they have made a difference
  • Help them to meet new people – staff and other volunteers as well as beneficiaries
  • Find ways to make them feel like they belong
  • Support positive mental health and well-being

There are a range of benefits people seek from volunteering and understanding that starting point is a great place for the volunteer manager to start – what are their motivations and how can we match our rewards to those motivations.

In the DSC publication, The Complete Volunteer Management Handbook, author Rick Lynch, says

“Volunteers do not work for money, but they do receive a ‘motivational pay cheque’. They are rewarded by satisfaction of their motivational needs.”

What are the motivational pay cheques your organisation provides for your volunteers? If we want the ‘win-win for all’ scenario – what do your volunteers get from working with you?

Appreciation can be conveyed through both formal and informal recognition systems.

Formal systems are helpful mainly in satisfying the needs of volunteers who seek recognition or approval, whether from a public body, the local community or other volunteers. They can also ensure volunteer recognition doesn’t fall into gaps between your organisations performance management systems. Informal recognition practises are more about the day-to-day stuff – expressing thanks, clear communications and helping volunteers to feel a part of the organisation.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of all the things we could offer volunteers to help them feel valued and supported by our organisation. What are you doing to ensure ‘win win for all’ in your volunteer programmes? Could you add some of these to your actions?

Which one of these is possible? Try to define one action you can take to make this a reality.

  • a welcome card when they join your organisation – get everyone to sign it
  • saying thank you for specific actions or contributions
  • public thank you’s (with permission) on notice boards, in newsletters, on websites and through social media
  • mention the work of volunteers in your annual reports
  • sharing their stories on your website
  • letting then know exactly how their actions positively impact beneficieries
  • celebrating/acknowledging their birthdays
  • being aware of their own cultural and social contexts
  • all staff knowing volunteers’ names
  • involving volunteers in decisions that affect them
  • keeping them up to date with changes in the organisation
  • making sure volunteers are treated as equals
  • be flexible where you can with working days and hours
  • showing an interest in volunteers lives outside your organisation
  • recommending volunteers for advancement to more responsible roles
  • celebrating volunteer milestones and anniversaries with your organisation – with gifts or otherwise
  • passing on thanks and success stories from beneficiaries to volunteers
  • inviting volunteers to relevant meetings and social guest togethers
  • giving regular and honest feedback
  • providing learning and development opportunities
  • making sure they know about recruitment opportunities
  • providing references
  • nomination for local or national awards or recognition
  • discounts on your own ‘paid for’ services

Sometimes simply asking your volunteers how best you can recognise their contribution is the most effective way to take on board their preferences and suggestions. Check-in with them regularly to ensure new volunteers and ideas are incorporated into your plans.

Remember, volunteers are an integral part of the team and of the organisation, not an add-on. If you keep this in mind, is this hard not to build volunteer recognition into your plans, policies and procedures.

If you would like to find out more about how to inspire, engage and celebrate your volunteers, join us for our conference on 22 May 2024. Content and booking details here.