How Do You Motivate Volunteers?

Cohesive nonprofit volunteersQ. How do you stimulate volunteers who offered themselves to be active leaders but who are not behaving that way? In other words: how to do you motivate volunteers?

The inherent problem in the volunteer relationship to an organization is that it is a volunteer relationship. Speaking from experience, there are times when other aspects of my life take over the time I would ordinarily offer to my volunteer commitments. When this happens, it is not that I do not want to fulfill my obligations, it’s that the volunteer efforts can’t always trump my other responsibilities.

Of course, that doesn’t answer the question, it just offers a reminder of the reasons one might need to motivate volunteer.

The more specific a role the volunteer has, the more likely the person is to feel the weight of their position within the organization. The flip side of this notion is that you cannot push a volunteer to take on too much. There is a difference between that gentle nudge to convert a hard worker into a committee chair and a proverbial twisting of an arm to convince someone to take on a leadership role. If someone has rarely exhibited interest beyond having their name on the committee list, do not offer them the chance to fail – instead; get to know who has the best chance to succeed. And accept that sometimes you will be wrong.

Another thing to keep in mind: any given committee has a diversity of members—al with different styles and motivations. There will be worker bees, glory-seekers, organizers, people who offer more than they can follow-through on and people who barely show up. Often, volunteers will fall into different categories depending on the project and the specific day, month or year. I recommend you treat them as I have been taught to treat my children: continually give individuals a chance to prove themselves to be the diligent volunteers you know that they have the potential to be.