Although volunteers are passionate, volunteerism requires a great deal of motivation to keep the passion alive. The 21st century new breed volunteer has a lot of distractions, and as leaders we constantly face the challenge of keeping the volunteer motivated so that they don’t switch to another cause or drop out.
So the key question is, “How do you keep the volunteer motivated?” Although it is an important question, in reality there is nothing you can do to motivate a volunteer. All volunteers are motivated, but they do things for their reasons not yours. Since motivation is an inner drive, then your role as leaders of volunteers is the following:
Create a volunteer culture that stimulates the inner motivation of each volunteer.
Do you have a volunteer culture that stimulates passion? As you evaluate your organization’s culture, consider these motivational drives of today’s volunteers.
- They are passionate—most of them are very concerned about world problems and want to deliver effective solutions.
- They are knowledge workers — the bulk of them are part of a new breed of professionals and want to be a part of a winning team of empowered specialists.
- They are mobile—many are on the go in a global community and want flexibility to fit their busy schedules.
If you provide opportunities to fulfill these motivational drives, you will be able to mobilize all that power and passion of volunteers to change the world—or at least the sector of society that you want to impact.
Here are five dimensions of leadership needed to create a stimulating volunteer culture.
1. Volunteers want to be on a winning team.
Nothing frustrates new breed volunteers more than being on a team that is going nowhere. They want to be on a winning team that is solving an important problem. But identifying the problem is not enough. You can’t stop with the question, “What problem are you trying to solve?” To clarify a winning team goal, there are two more strategic questions. Question #2—What is the solution to the problem? Question #3—Who are the team members you need to solve that problem? The answers to all three of these questions are the first step to creating a stimulating volunteer culture. A clearly stated win for the volunteer team is the rallying point for mobilizing the power of volunteers for your volunteer team.
2. Volunteers want to feel valued and important.
Interdependency begins with getting the right people in the right roles. Any leader knows this. Albert Einstein has been credited to have said, “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Although some question whether Einstein ever said that, the point is valid that everyone has unique abilities to make contributions to the volunteer team. Winning teams need the best possible people for each role of the team. That is basic leadership.
Jim Collins says that If you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate people largely goes away. That may be true when people are getting paid for their skill, attitude and team work. But just getting the right people in the right roles doesn’t necessarily keep the team motivated in volunteer management. When volunteers are giving their discretionary time and energy, they need regular feedback to be assured that their service is valued. When the executive director, CEO, principal, or minister drops by and observes the volunteer in action or sends a hand-written thank-you note to acknowledge a volunteer as an integrated, valued member of the team, you’ve got that volunteer. Andy Stanley says that to keep the passion alive, interdependency must be felt, and unless key leaders make people feel their roles are important and valued, it won’t be felt.
3. Volunteers have a one to three-year shelf-life.
The typical shelf life of a volunteer for “Make a Wish” in the Hudson Valley in New York is about three years, according to volunteer manager Abraham Almanza. And he told me that he is happy to have them for three years. In North Carolina the Guardian ad Litem volunteer advocate commits to at least eight hours per month on a case, and they are encouraged to serve until the case is completed, which usually takes at least a year. These two organizations understand the reality of today’s volunteer. Today most volunteers will not make a commitment for the next 10 years, but they can be expected to help you make a difference this year or perhaps even several years.
The new breed volunteer is not going to be a problem for you in 25 years when you have to figure out how to transition that person out of a position that no longer is needed. Get used to it—we are a short-term culture.
4. Volunteers want to be an asset when present but not a liability when absent.
I call this statement “Sharon’s axiom.” Several years ago our good friends were visiting us and we were engaged in a lively conversation about volunteers when Sharon Eidsness, a retired boomer, said, “I want volunteer where my presence is an asset but my absence is not a liability.” I grabbed a pen and paper and wrote that down because I believe Sharon’s statement summed up one of the best descriptions I know of what today’s volunteers want. When I show her words on a slide at a workshop, I hear sighs all over the room because leaders volunteers are thinking, “Great! How do I pull that off?”
The answer is two words—flexibility and teams. A best practice for engaging the highly mobile, very busy, 21st century volunteer is flexibility and teams. My wife Susie volunteers four to five hours on Thursdays at our local food bank. But because she is retired, she often travels with me when I speak and most months she is is not able to fill her role at least one Thursday of the month. If her manager was not able to accommodate her travel schedule, or have multiple team members, she would not have a dedicated volunteer three out of the four weeks of the month. That would be a huge loss, and Susie would find a place to volunteer that understood the new breed volunteer. Oh, and by the way, Sharon’s axiom is not just for retired boomers. All volunteers of all generations feel this.
5. Volunteers don’t volunteer.
Volunteers don’t raise their hands. According to the Volunteering and Civil Life in America, 2014 report, 75% of people living in the U.S. do not volunteer for an organization. The report also said that 62.5% of the 75% do volunteer, but not in organizations. They help their neighbors and organize a neighborhood softball game in an informal setting. There are no job descriptions or formal recruiting processes, but they are volunteering.
What does this tell me? People do want to do something to help. But let’s accept the fact that the 62.5% will never volunteer. They need to be asked. Perhaps if we ask the 62.5% to fulfill a very specific role on a short-term, solution-oriented winning team, they will be a volunteer. But they won’t volunteer when they see an announcement. There is no perceived personal value in that. But when you ask them, you are already stating that you value them.
Volunteer involvement has changed over the past 20 years, challenging leaders to adapt to a savvy New Breed of volunteers. Plenty of volunteers are willing to get involved, but they’ll become involved according to their rules–not ours. In the book, The New Breed, father and son authors, Thomas and Jonathan McKee introduce real-life challenges in volunteer engagement and give best practices from recruiting, to empowering retiring boomers, gen xer’s, and millennials to how to use technology for communication.
To oder your copy of The New Breed, click here: The New Breed
- A workshop:
To train your membership, staff or lead volunteer consider a volunteer keynote, 1/2 day or full-day workshop. For more information see: Volunteer Power Keynotes and Workshops