Ask 100 people to define Change Management, and you'll get 100 different definitions. At the end of the day, the definition is just semantics. What really matters is whether you can implement a Change Management program in a practical way that allows you to support your organization in successfully achieving its goals. Whether you're a Change Manager, a consultant, or the tech. guy who was told to "figure out some Change Management stuff," this blog will help address common issues and topics you're likely to run into along the way.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Change Management for Non-Profits: Motivating Volunteers

Two years ago, I helped develop and deliver Project Management and Change Management training for non-profit organizations.  It was the most fulfilling work activity in which I have ever participated.  Not only were the participants truly grateful for the training, but I knew that they would put it to good use helping their organizations better achieve their goals of reaching out to those in need.

As I talked to different organizations, I noticed some key themes.  One major question was, "How do we motivate our volunteers to stay actively engaged with our organization?"  Non-profit organizations don't have at their disposal many of the traditional levers that companies use with their employees.  Volunteers don't receive a salary, which means there's no hope of a bonus or raise for going above and beyond the call of duty.  There are no performance reviews and no fear of being fired. 

Add to that the fact that many volunteers are giving their time on top of commitments to family, friends, and a full-time job, and you can see why non-profits experience high volunteer turn-over, absenteeism, and loss of motivation.

What can you do to motivate volunteers when many of the common corporate methods just aren't an option?

Three Practical Tips for Motivating Volunteers
  1. Renew their sense of purpose: With the possible exception of high school students forced to volunteer, people typically give their time because they are passionate about the cause.  Whether it's finding a cure for breast cancer, helping the homeless get back on their feet, or finding shelter for abused animals, volunteers come to their role with a sense of purpose and a drive to help the non-profit achieve its goals.  When volunteers lose this purpose and drive, it's your job to help them find it again.  Remind them of the people who are being helped.  Show them solid examples of how your organization has helped your target group.  Share with them your plans for delivering more benefits in the future.  Basically, remind them why they care, and pump them up to continue contributing to all of the good your organization is doing. 
  2. Show them their value: Volunteer work isn't always particularly glamorous.  After stuffing and licking hundreds of envelopes, answering phones for hours, or filing mountains of papers, it can be easy for volunteers to lose sight of how the tasks they are doing contribute to the greater cause.  You need to help them connect the dots.  Did the hundreds of envelopes they stuffed lead to thousands of dollars in donations?  Tell them!  Show them how even the most menial tasks help the organization achieve its goals.  If you receive positive feedback from people who have benefited from your services, share that with your volunteers, and explain how that person was directly affected by the work they did.  Everyone wants to feel like their small piece of the puzzle is important to the big picture.  It's your responsibility to help them see where they fit and why their work is important.
  3. Focus on "total compensation": Many corporations these days don't just talk about an employee's salary.  Instead, they talk about "total compensation."  This can include vacation time, training opportunities, and other perks the employee receives that can't necessarily be quantified as part of their pay check.  Since volunteers aren't getting paid, it's especially important for non-profits to think about the "total compensation" they can provide to their team.  If you have the money, small items like a branded t-shirt or hat can be a fun surprise for a volunteer, and everyone always loves a free lunch.  Even if you don't have any budget for your volunteers, though, that doesn't mean you can't provide compensation.  Remember to thank your volunteers for their time and hard work.  If you can, encourage the people who benefit from your organization to provide thanks.  There's nothing better than a thank you note from a group of kids whose school was painted by volunteers!  Recognize your volunteers publicly at events they've helped to stage.  And remember, for many volunteers, the best compensation is the great feeling they get from helping others. 
Readers - If you work at a non-profit organization, how do you motivate your volunteers?
Volunteers - What could non-profit organizations do to help you stay motivated?


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