Five ways to incentivize volunteers
One of the greatest challenges facing nonprofit organizations is garnering volunteers and, more importantly, the right kind of individuals. The ideal volunteer brings more than a bagged lunch – he or she provides innovative ideas, fresh enthusiasm, and a sincere interest in a volunteer setting. Below are five suggestions that have helped Garage Community and Youth Center form lasting and meaningful relationships with current and prospective volunteers.
1. Offer titles within organization
Even though a volunteer may not consider their position that important, it is our job to dissuade such feelings. Providing volunteers with a title will reinforce that they are an essential part of the team, examples including “brand coordinator” and “social consultant.” Volunteers who are in college or are still establishing their careers may appreciate the opportunity to enhance their resumes, and such roles encourage progression within the organization. While setting up an awareness concert to raise money for cancer, the Garage grouped high school students from different locations. We gave these volunteers the titles “brand ambassador” and “brand promoter”. Even though the students did not know each other, their similar titles were a factor in bringing them together as a team.
2. Allow volunteers to flow through organization
While some individuals may excel at one job, others may need to be involved in a more dynamic role. Allowing volunteers to cycle through various responsibilities can be an effective way to keep volunteers engaged and find useful skills they may possess. As they become more familiar with the operations of the organization, their insights will become more valuable. Allowing their input can give them a feeling of accomplishment and pride in the organization’s success. The satisfaction in making a difference can act as a substitute for money. As they become more experienced, granting the authority to make decisions on behalf of the organization will only increase this sentiment.
3. Give out team “jerseys”
Forget the color-coordinated cleats and pinstripes - The Yankees don’t need any more supporters. However, giving branded t-shirts, water bottles, hats, and other practical products you can find here is a great way to raise morale and allow them to subtly show off their association. Seeking businesses as sponsors by putting their logo on the back of t-shirts will keep costs low. Many volunteers at the Garage gained experience by building relationships with local business to promote awareness and raise funds.
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4. Keep open channels of communication
Keep an open door policy with your volunteers. If they are on the front lines of fundraising or interacting with the public, their input should never be thrown to the side. When reaching out to new volunteers, have seasoned volunteers show them the ropes or write how-to guides. Encouraging volunteers to immediately rate or discuss activities will tell you what can be done to improve the volunteers’ time and what other activities may be beneficial to the organization. Not only will this allow for you to increase their overall contentment, but they will be receptive to the fact that you are actively seeking to raise their level of happiness. By having open communication throughout the organization, we have found ideas flow more freely and result in new avenues for revenue building fundraising.
5. Reward them
While T-shirts are useful, consider offering volunteers different types of rewards. Are you hosting a particularly exciting, noteworthy activity? Watermarked pictures are cost efficient and tangible (or digital) rewards that remind volunteers of their experiences. Volunteers will more than likely show friends and families, possibly enticing a whole new wave of potential volunteers.
If your volunteers do not have a stable income, reimburse them for travel and offer a simple lunch. Depending on the nature of your nonprofit, consider granting them special discounts or access to VIP sections during special events.
Whether you hold an annual appreciation ceremony or mail a simple thank you letter, make sure your volunteers know you appreciate all that they have given up for the organization. Offer to send a letter to their school/employer recognizing their volunteering efforts. Recently, the Garage has been working with a lot of high school students who need to complete a community project in order to graduate.
While these tips may not be ideal for every organization, they have helped me in my time within the industry. In order to entice and retain engaged workers, it is our job as leaders to create a working environment that produces rewarding experiences for the volunteers, employees, and most importantly, the organization.
Jason Rescka is a prominent figure in the volunteer community and has received the Exelon Community Service award for excellence in service. He is the music event manager and community board member of the Garage Community Youth & Center. His passions include building communities, social media marketing, and event promotion.