How Are You Treating Your Volunteers – All Volunteers?

cartoon volunteers with colored shirtsDo you have volunteers?

How do they feel about how they are treated – really?


Personally, I’m astonished how poorly volunteers are treated in the non-profit sector.  Some organizations do a great job but most don’t.


I ask myself that question often.

Volunteers represent “money in the bank”.

Every hour a volunteer donates is literally money in the bank in more ways than one:

  • they do work for no payment.  Calculate how much they contribute even at a base rate of pay.  You might be astonished with the number.
  • the work they do sometimes results in direct contributions to the organization such as fundraising events, asking for donations, participating in mailings or calls to donors or potential donors, etc.  How many dollars have they directly raised?  Does the organization know?
  • any additional work done over and above what staff does, means better service to the constituents the organization is serving.  Has anyone ever asked the difference a volunteer makes?
  • new projects and activities can be undertaken which would not otherwise be possible.  A good, well-run volunteer program knows its volunteers really well and are able to tap into the “gold in them there hills”!
  • the goodwill they provide when they talk about their work in the organization to others in the community is invaluable for promoting the organization’s efforts.  If organizations asked new volunteers how they discovered the organization,  they might be surprised at the answer.

And, yet, volunteers are treated often as though they are a bother, a nuisance or an after-thought.  One organization I volunteered with never bothered sending a thank you in an email, contacting me about other volunteer opportunities nor bothered to connect with me until the following year.  By then, I had moved on to other volunteer opportunities where the appreciation and relationship building was far more active.

How many organizations have a really good volunteer program?

Not many.  And, yet, organizations complain about needing money when they have a goldmine in their midst which they are ignoring.

It reminds me of the story of the farmer who wanted to be rich.  He tried different crops and, no matter how hard he worked or how many different things he tried, he just couldn’t get rich.  He sold the farm.

The new farmer investigated the property quite thoroughly looking for all the assets at his disposal.  One key part of the farm was a small stream which provided water for the crops and the animals he was going to purchase.  He loved the stream and often took a walk along its winding path or just sat and listened to the water running.

One day, he saw something shiny in the stream.  He bent down and found a little nugget.  After some investigation he determined that he had come across, on the property, a gold mine – literally.

Volunteers are the gold and should be treated accordingly.  Organizations need to learn how to “work the mine” effectively.


Ask me about my workshop on creating a great volunteer program.

Lorraine Arams

On Contract Only
Strategic Volunteering to Boost Your Career

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