Volunteers: Knowing Their Importance


Would your budget survive if you suddenly had to pay your volunteers for their time? Most nonprofits would answer with a resounding “no.” But financial gain isn’t the reason your volunteers show up to help. They are actively supportive because they believe in your organization’s mission and values. Keeping them motivated and engaged, in many ways, is critical to your agency’s ability to continue serving its clients.

Understand Your Supporters

Before you can design a program geared toward engaging this powerful constituency, you need to understand why your supporters volunteer for your organization:

word art filled with various synonyms for volunteer in the shape of a family of four people
  • Are they true believers, such as volunteers for a political campaign?
  • Are they volunteering for a cause, such as someone who is passionate about animals or has suffered from a disease?
  • Are they required to volunteer a certain number of hours, such as someone in a leadership training program?
  • Do they want to make new business connections or meet new people?
  • Do they want to learn new skills?
  • What else motivates them?

Identify Ways to Engage Volunteers

This assessment can be made at the organization’s initial meeting with the potential volunteer. Once you know what’s driving your volunteers, you can identify the types of incentives that will keep them engaged, for example:

  • Understand their strengths. All volunteers understand there will be tasks that are the functional equivalent of stuffing envelopes, and they’re okay with that — as long as that’s not all they’re doing. Make sure volunteers aren’t being used exclusively to do menial tasks staff are not interested in. Instead, try to match assignments with their skills or with what they want to do.
  • Show them they matter. Regularly communicate with your volunteers and listen to their ideas. Train them as needed. Remember that they are boots on the ground in your organization and see things from a different perspective than you do.
  • Say thank you. Often and in different ways. Thank them for their good job every time they are at your facility. Occasionally, perhaps after a big project is finished, send a handwritten note to their home. Post a thank you on your social media or in your newsletter. To put it bluntly, every volunteer’s contribution has a cash equivalent that you are not responsible for paying. Make sure they know you appreciate their efforts.
  • Make it fun. Depending on your budget and structure, think about hosting a Volunteer Appreciation Day or designing a competitive game for volunteers. These types of events can be scaled to meet your budget. The important thing is that you are going the extra mile to show your volunteers that their efforts are valued.

Developing a volunteer engagement program is something every nonprofit should consider doing. Volunteers want to make a difference, and nonprofits need their volunteers to run smoothly and efficiently. Call us today to discuss programs that mesh these dual purposes and that are beneficial to both parties.

To learn more about how our firm can serve your nonprofit organization, please contact Dave Wolfenden or Kathy Corcoran at (302) 254-8240.

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