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Understanding Your Volunteers: The Unpaid Yet Invaluable “Employees” of Your Organization

By July 22, 2013August 17th, 2022No Comments

Understanding-Your-Volunteers-The-Unpaid-Yet-Invaluable-Employees-of-Your-OrganizationOne important factor for those who want to start a nonprofit organization or for those who want to grow their established nonprofit, is to understand the value of volunteers to their mission. For many nonprofit organizations, volunteers are truly the heartbeat of the organization. They keep many organizations going by providing high quality services to the community at no cost to the organization.  Whether your volunteer program is thriving or needs major attention, understanding your volunteers is critical. These unpaid yet invaluable “employees” of your organization can help your organization grow even on a limited budget. Read on to learn why people are motivated to volunteer and how you can increase the number of volunteers to your organization.

If you rely on volunteers, it is important to let them know how much you appreciate them and how their help affects the overall success of the organization. Everyone wants to feel their effort makes a difference and it motivates them to keep giving of their time in the future. Proper boundaries are important to make the volunteer experience mutually positive for the employees and the volunteers. Establishing guidelines up front for your volunteer program will save you a lot of headaches later. One helpful tip is to have clear guidelines for both the volunteers and their staff supervisor about what they are expected to do and what they are not permitted to do.  For example, it may not be a good idea to have volunteers making decisions about the organization’s operations.

To have volunteers who feel fulfilled and who want to keep coming back for the long haul, you will need to understand the reasons why people volunteer.  Research shows these 5 reasons why people volunteer:

  1. They were personally asked by someone within or close to the organization.
  2. An organization they are affiliated with is involved with the nonprofit.
  3. They have a personal connection to the mission of the project or organization.
  4. They want to learn new skills (and build their resumes).
  5. They want to meet new people.

Knowing these 5 reasons will make it easier for you to brainstorm how to strengthen your volunteer program. One way you can get started today is by asking your employees to spread the word to friends and family that you are welcoming volunteers. Have a portion of your blog and/or newsletter dedicated to the topic of volunteering and encouraging your employees to help you build your volunteer program. Explain that many times people want to help out but they feel more comfortable diving in after receiving a personal invitation.

Along with understanding the reasons people volunteer, it is also helpful to understand the basics of Motivational Theory as presented by McClelland and Atkinson.  According to these researchers, people are motivated for three reasons, or some combination of the three.

  • Affiliation: these are the people who want social interaction and want to make friends.  They like to get involved with group projects and want to be perceived as a “good” person.
  • Achievement: these are the people who like to have specific goals to work toward.  They seek responsibility, stick to their assigned tasks until they are completed and see problems as challenges to be overcome.
  • Power: these are the people who need to impact and have influence over others.  Fortunately, they are also the people who keep an eye on the overall goals of the organization.

There are many facets to having a successful volunteer program in your organization.  If you are looking to develop your volunteer program, we would love to partner with you to develop your: volunteer orientation, volunteer handbook, strategies to recognize the efforts of your volunteers, and more! Contact Debbie at

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