Volunteers – Should You Bother With Them?

Should you bother with engaging volunteers?


What Is A Volunteer?

Why do they do what they do?

Where do they come from?


Volunteers are unpaid workers, basically.  Why would anyone work for no financial return? 

The reasons for volunteering are as varied as the people who volunteer:

  • a reason to get out of bed every morning
  • a way to contribute to the community
  • a means to a new job
  • a meeting opportunity to make new friends or contacts
  • a place to have fun, do exciting things out of the ordinary
  • a chance to learn a new skill or develop a new talent
  • a possibility to learn about a new career or a new interest
  • a possibility for making a difference helping a social need
  • a connection with different ages, nationalities, ideas, and projects

and more . . . it’s a very long list!

Where do they come from?

From all walks of life and from every socio-economic corner of our society. 

Why should you bother with them?  Aren’t they more work than they’re worth?

Having an effective volunteering program is a lot of work, and it takes time and energy to organize volunteers in areas where you can both get necessary work done and at the same time, assure that volunteers are sufficiently engaged to remain with your organization long enough or longer than the training value they received.  It’s a balancing act. 

Boards of directors can often take up a lot of time with agendas, minutes of meetings, meetings, and delivering what each member needs to fulfill their role.

Project volunteers also utilize internal resources similar to a board of directors.

Task volunteers need training and some form of supervision or explanation of tasks.

Each category of volunteers takes time and consumes resources

So why bother?

Because, as most well-managed volunteer programs will prove, volunteers contribute far more than they use.  The key descriptor here is:  “well-managed”.

What does well-managed mean?

It means putting thought and proper planning in developing a volunteer program that is designed to BOTH satisfy the needs of the organization and the volunteers.  If the volunteers are happy but the impact on the operations is unworkable, then there is something wrong with defining your volunteer needs.  If, on the other hand, your volunteers are contributing very little  then the issue becomes whether you really need volunteers.  Define the need carefully.

It also means that you have a proper and vital recognition program that goes beyond mailing them a certificate or shaking their hand!  Think a bit!  How would you like to be recognized?

It also means communicating with them and knowing their names.  They call it today, “relationship building”.  They are making significant contributions to your bottom line – say so and keep them informed about everything going on in the organization. 

And it means respecting them.  Respect that they only have so much time to offer to your organization.  Don’t overburden them or give them work repeatedly that they have indicated they don’t or won’t to do. 

Does everything have to be exciting and challenging for volunteers?

They do most anything you ask  as long as you mix it up with some challenging and exciting ones. A board member will be willing to set up the booth at your bazaar and man it for the entire day.  A volunteer receptionist may like answering the phone but also love to write articles in the newsletter or organize an event.  Therefore, properly matching the task and the volunteer is critical which will come as a result of a well-organized and developed questionnaire and agreement right from the start.  Be clear.  Put it in writing.  Remember – volunteers help occasionally, it’s not a full-time job.  They have other interests and activities.  If you want volunteers to do a variety of tasks, let them know at the beginning.  

How do I do it?

With care . . . it takes time and evolution to create a great volunteer program.  Involve the volunteers – all of them – whomever you have and build.  Find some volunteer leaders who will be glad to help with managing and assigning other volunteers.  Design a program which is unique to your organization based on your needs.

If you need more help, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Lorraine Arams





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