5 Things your Volunteers are Thinking (and Saying) About Your Organization … that you wish they weren’t
Many times volunteer staff retention rates are low because the volunteer’s inner motivator isn’t met. Or they feel the organization is unorganized or worse, once they get a chance to look behind the curtain they don’t like what they see. But, there are ways to keep you volunteers motivated, activated and focused on your organization’s success.
1. “When I offer suggestions or help, the staff doesn’t seem to care. Why should I waste my time trying to save a sinking ship?”
Volunteers need to feel complaints are handled with sensitivity and they receive a fair hearing and that the complaints/grievance procedure of the organization will be rigorously followed. This procedure should be in writing and available to volunteers, and will ensure a consistency of response.
2. “I absolutely hate volunteering at your organization’s name.” (posted online)
Has one of your volunteers ever said this about your nonprofit online? If you haven’t done an online search to find out in a while – or ever – it’s time!
Just like an in-person conversation, it’s important to listen online as much as you talk – if not more. Understanding what volunteers are saying about their experiences – positive or negative – can help you create a stronger volunteer program.
One of my favorite ways to listen to what volunteers are saying online is to set up a Google Alert. I’ve had Google Alerts set up for my own name for years, and I always advise my clients to do the same.
Set up a Google Alert in three easy steps:
- Go toGoogle Alerts
- Type in your search terms (name, organization, etc.,)
- Click “Create Alert”
Google Alerts will keep you updated if your name or organization appears online. Plus, it takes the pressure off of you to remember to do the search, and lets Google take care of it for you.
3. “Just because I give my time for free, doesn’t mean that the value is low. I always get stuck doing menial tasks even though I am a retired executive. I don’t think I’ll be back.”
Work their Strengths – Place them where they are gifted instead of where you “need” them. I know that this may be difficult to imagine but volunteers are people too. They have degrees, experiences and knowledge that may help the organization in ways other than answering phones and sealing envelopes. Having a retired business man spend hours boxing clothes for the next clothing drive is a lot less efficient than having him make the fundraising connections with other businesses (reminiscent of his time managing a sales department) to boost the drive’s chances for success. In your introductory process (make sure you have one), volunteers should fill out a quick questionnaire about their strengths, experiences and where they feel most led to work.
Volunteer Intake is so important. The VOLUNTEER TOOLKIT includes a StengthFinder Intake Form that I give my clients. It makes a huge difference in retention and productivity. Even if you don’t think you need help in a particular area at the moment, these volunteers become great resources for ideas and innovation.
4. “Whenever I volunteer, I am asked to do one thing for a set amount of time, but I always seem to get stuck staying longer and doing things I didn’t agree to because they didn’t plan properly. I can’t count on them.”
Keep Your Word – If you ask a volunteer to stay from 2-4 to help with the youth event, don’t ask them to stay longer once they are there or shift to another section than what they agreed to. This is a sign of poor planning and it puts them in a bad position and their view of the organization in a “dimmer” light. Even if they agree, they won’t forget that uncomfortable position you placed them in. They are helping because they are kind, even when treated badly. Remember the last time someone did the “bait and switch” on you or guilted you into doing more than you agreed to do. How did you feel the next time that person asked for something? You don’t want to be “that guy”. Do your best to schedule and plan with every contingency in mind.
5. “I began volunteering because I am passionate about the organization’s cause. But, the more I volunteer the less I see the organization truly creating change and focusing on the things I care about.”
Remember Why They Volunteer – Volunteers give their time because they enjoy or feel passionate about the organization’s cause. If this is a place of worship or civic group, try not to place them in a position where they consistently can’t attend the worship service or meeting that stirred up that passion. If they are helping at the door, even if it seems like they are at the meeting, they aren’t able to truly focus on the speaker or be part of the discussion. Stagger these obligations as much as possible. You may want to have a regular audit cycle where you ask volunteers to let you know when they are available and what meetings they don’t want to miss.
Also, make sure to show how your organization is really doing what your mission is all about. When volunteers are able to “peek behind the curtain”, make sure that what they see is in line with your organization’s goals.
Remember, the last thing you want to do is to disconnect the volunteer from the reason why they volunteer.