Volunteers: Walk a Day in Their Shoes

Volunteers: Can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them.

If you work in association management, I’m sure you’ve heard the saying before. Many times, those who haven’t walked a day in a volunteer’s shoes might find themselves frustrated. It’s understandable; imagine if you have to meet a deadline with a printer, but XYZ volunteer isn’t providing the information you need to go to print. You’d be upset, right?

But consider this: This happens with volunteers. The pay is bad, they have full-time jobs, kids, and, simply put, a life.

Over the past 10+ years, I have served as volunteer for various organizations. Every experience has been different—some rewarding, some good, some bad, and honestly some that were downright torture—but I’ve taken something away from each experience. I’ve used these lessons and experiences to better my day-to-day job of managing volunteers of all levels. Here are a few tips that to make your time with volunteers more effective, and, most importantly, make their experience more rewarding and meaningful.

  1. Make it Count. Your volunteers are spending personal time to serve the organization. Providing meaningful work for them to dive into will make this time well-spent away from their other obligations.
  2. Recognize and Reward. Most organizations do not pay their volunteers. Make sure you say thank you and recognize them for their service. It doesn’t have to be expensive; a small token and a hand written card go a long way!
  3. Detailed yet Simple. Providing detailed yet simple descriptions of opportunities with time commitments, duties, length of service, etc. up front will allow the volunteer to identify the right opportunity for them to serve in.
  4. Variety. Offer a variety of opportunities to allow people to serve no matter what their schedule or life looks like. This prevents your organization from alienating those that don’t have a lot of time.
  5. Mission Driven. I can’t stress how important this one is. Every committee, task force and ad hoc group should be working to support the mission of the organization. And if they aren’t? Simply put: They shouldn’t exist.