By: Rachel Luoma, MS, CAE
I remember reading this great blog by my colleague Will Ferguson about being a volunteer leader. In it, he provides some great tips for those looking to become involved in an association, such as selecting a volunteer position, being present, following through and knowing when to step back.
As I read through it, I couldn’t help but think about the other side of the equation – managing volunteer leaders. I always say that volunteers are the heart of the association and staff members are the legs. The staff can do the heavy lifting, but the organization is dead without the heart – the volunteers.
Sometimes I feel like a tour group leader with my volunteers. Trying to get them all to a single destination, keeping them focused and engaged and making sure they have a fun and rewarding time. It can be exhausting! However, it is also the most rewarding part of my job.
I wanted to share a few key things that I have learned over the years that help me to ensure that we achieve results, but also that our volunteers feel engaged, fulfilled and appreciated.
Volunteers need to know what the big picture is and the role that they play in the big picture. It is important to communicate with your volunteers about what the organization is working towards and how their involvement will further the work of the organization.
One way to do this is for each committee to have a specific charge, which clearly outlines the scope of the committee work. With this charge, you should include any specific goals of the committee, the staff liaisons they will be working with, the timeline for the committee work as well as the deliverables.
It is also important to set benchmarks for committee work and to communicate along the way. For example, if your volunteers are working on a project and have a deadline in a month to complete their work, make sure you reach out each week just to touch base. It may be a subtle reminder that you are there if they need you, or checking in on their progress.
If your group meets in person, make sure that you provide them with balanced meals and snacks to ensure they have energy. There was this great article a couple of years ago in the Harvard Business Review about how food impacts productivity. Essentially it talks about how drops and spikes in blood sugar negatively impact the brain and can negatively impact performance.
Often times, volunteers are taking time away from their work and families so it is important to maximize their time and to also ensure they feel valued. Make sure your volunteer leaders have good meals and healthy snacks. Ask about food allergies so you know what to avoid. Learn what specific food and drinks volunteer leaders like and try to incorporate that into your menu planning.
A sincere thank you goes a long way with volunteer leaders. You should sound like a broken record – saying thank you with every opportunity. But it is important to keep saying thank you to make sure that your volunteers feel appreciated.
Don’t forget to touch base with them when you aren’t asking for something. Is it their birthday? Did they celebrate a milestone? Did they post something on social media that is noteworthy? Is their favorite show or movie on TV? Make an extra effort to let them know you are thinking of them.
Also, try to think of different ways to express your appreciation – a phone call, an email, a handwritten note, a text, a video, a cell phone message, a message or post on social media, a little gift, a medium sized gift, a homemade gift, heck a big gift – basically, anything that says, “we value you!”
Overall, the key with volunteers is to communicate, collaborate and care.