August 26, 2013

Volunteers Need to Benefit From Their Charitable Work

Many donors are figuring how to use their time and money to make a difference for themselves while making a difference to a nonprofit. And that’s a really good thing for nonprofits.

Several studies over the past few years have shown that individuals who volunteer give more money than those who do not volunteer, making it all the more important to look at how people give their time as carefully as how we look at how they give their money.

Traditionally, nonprofits have tried to convince people to give time and money because it feels good or it’s the right thing to do, for the most part focusing on heartstrings rather than logic. The primary exception is that many organizations “sell” volunteerism as a path to employee engagement for corporations.

But many people will give more time if they see a benefit for themselves as well. So when recruiting volunteers, if you aren’t thinking about what’s in it for them, you’re missing a powerful pull.

What’s the best way to attract and keep volunteers? Focus groups, interviews, and feedback forms are good ways to find out what motivates volunteers to work for your cause. Through surveys, you can test your ideas about why people volunteer and see which ones are most relevant to which groups of volunteers. You can find cues to some of the questions you should ask by thinking about the challenges and opportunities individuals associate with their day-to-day lives.

Some examples of questions to consider to find out what your volunteers value:

  • What kind of connections to other people do they wish they had?
  • How can you help them build those networks?
  • What can they learn or practice in working with you?
  • How do those skills connect to their success in life?
  • What life, family, or career goals can they achieve by working with you?
  • What experiences can you offer that they can’t easily get elsewhere?

Measuring and understanding your volunteers’ wants and needs will help you recruit, retain, and assign volunteers much more effectively. Understanding what kind of impact they want from their time will allow you to deliver much more value to them and extract much more value from them.

What value do you provide to volunteers? How do you recruit and retain them?