Working with Volunteers

volunteersMany organizations rely on volunteers to help provide services. These may include charities, recreational organizations, hospitals, social groups, civic clubs, and governmental services. These volunteers become a vital part of providing those services, yet in many cases they are taken for granted. Learning to properly use the skills and energy within these volunteers can be a major contributor to the success of these non-profits.

Statistics tell us that 80% of the non-profit workforce are volunteers. In 2013, that amounted to 62.6 million people. The long-term trend has been an annual decline in this populations of about 1 %. Note, that is a nation-wide trend and statistics in areas with a high percentage of retirees might be different.

The median age is 50 years. Consider all the roles they play in church organizations, recreational programs, meals on wheels, hospitals, museums, or in a clerical function. Are they not a force in our communities to be recognized and considered?

Defining Your Need

Let’s start by asking why you might need them. You may want to expand your service to the community or you may want to add value to those services already supplied. Budgets are always tight in the non-profit work and volunteers become critical to an organization’s success.

The second question becomes when do you need them? Some positions, such as greeter at a hospital, require a year-round commitment. Others, such as the help with an annual golf tournament or 10k Run, are once a year events. Some volunteers are needed only on weekend or a few hours in the afternoon. Each time commitment is different and may attract a different person.

What is the nature of the volunteer work? It may be just labor to cut a little league ball field. It may be the greeter at a welcome center. Some volunteers can help with the development of programs or as coaches or consultants. Don’t limit your possibilities to only a few areas.

Why Do People Volunteer?

It is important to understand why people volunteer. The great majority do not expect a financial gain. The question is therefore, what’s in It for me (WIIFM). There is what is referred to as the “slash factor”.

People like to live multifaceted lives. Most folks work forty hours plus in their profession or at their job. They need a change of pace and that can be accomplished by working with youth or just being in a different environment.  There also is the need to “give back” to the community in which they live. For many there is the socialization factor. Just to get out of the house and socialize in the community.

People don’t just want to make a contribution. They want to make a difference. Making a cash contribution is important, but delivering a meal to a shut-in senior makes a difference in that person’s life. Don’t be afraid to require an orientation program of training for a volunteer. People who want to make a difference do not see that as an obstacle.


The first step in recruiting is to develop and publish an engaging volunteer description. One such  opportuity from the Mecklinburg Parks and Recreation is shown below. Note that the volunteerposition is published in a colorful format and provides detailed information including; the contact person, the location, dates, hours, a description of duties, and any clothing requirement.

Publish everywhere. Most organizations have a website and that is a good place to start. Use Facebook, Twitter, and Craig’s list and don’t forget word of mouth. Use you current staff and volunteers to help with the recruiting. Also remember that many people will never volunteer, but f personally asked to help by working on a project, most will accept.

Also contact other organizations. High school students are looking for community service projects. So are the scouts. Churches also like to participate as part of their outreach programs. Civic organizations such as Rotary, the Lions, and Civilians will also participate if asked.

Onboarding and Training

A good place to start is by recognizing that volunteers need to be considered of value. Don’t just consider them a free resource. Place a value, the example $22.00 per hour, on volunteer help. Once that attitude is established, involving them in your efforts will change.

Start with a brief interview as you would any new employee. Find out their motivation. Understand their time commitment and discover their skill associated with the position. It might also be helpful to understand what other skills they possess that might be helpful for other future needs.

Onboarding and training is also known as organizational socialization. Help them understand the organization’s mission. Inspire them with the cause not the organization. Discuss, not only the program in which they will be involved, but other programs within the organization. Tell them about upcoming events. Explain the core values and culture of the group. Try to be as thorough as possible. No one wants to hear later someone say, “by the way”.


Remember as a leader to involve the volunteers. Make them feel needed. Stay in contact by personally checking in with them on a regular basis. Give clear direction and help them feel engaged with others in the group.


Retention is key to any ongoing volunteer program. Measure it. How many return for future projects or continue to volunteer over the course of the years? Show your appreciation through socials and parties. Retained volunteers can become a valuable part of your organizations efforts.

Information in this article was included in a presentation made at the South Carolina/North Carolina Recreation and Parks Joint Conference in Myrtle Beach in October 2015. A copy of the Power Point for that workshop is posted on the Library page of our website ww.plangoals.com  the link is  http://plangoals.com/wp-content/uploads/Working-With-Volunteers.pdf Learn more about our workshop and seminar program, but email bob@plangoals.com