Rewarding and retaining volunteers


A board member of a nonprofit animal shelter in Florida recently asked a good question, "How can nonprofits with limited funds reward their volunteers?"

Volunteer engagement -- the recruitment, orientation, management, recognition, and retention of volunteers -- is a core specialty of Project Partners. Our training program, "Volunteers. You can't live with them. You can't live without them." has been wildly popular since so many professionals are put in their positions without any training on the art and science of volunteer engagement. Having a foundation of knowledge makes all the difference. I could write a book on this subject and will add to this in future Good Advice articles, but start with why volunteers volunteer in the first place.

Volunteers are motivated by several things:

·    Desire to develop skills and expertise;

·    Desire to build personal relationships;

·    Desire for status, power, prestige, or community profile;

·    Encouragement from their employer;

·    Desire to make a difference;

·    Love your mission; and

·    They were asked!

With this in mind, the staff and volunteer leadership teams tasked with engaging volunteers must tailor their incentives, rewards, and management styles  to their volunteers -- and no two volunteers are alike. This might be time consuming, but there is no better way to increase capacity for a nonprofit than to increase the quantity and quality of the volunteer "workforce".

·    Recruit to job descriptions;

·    Orient to those job descriptions; and

·    Provide direction, support, and follow-up.

·    Recognize them through board and committee meetings, major events, e-mails, hand-written notes and letters, communications channels, small gifts or honorariums, very personal approaches like introductions to someone they want to meet, and more.

Loyalty and retention will be your reward.