Process Improvement

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Motivating Volunteers

I work with a very large group of volunteers. My current project is focusing on the reduction of waste. I would like some feedback on how others motivate people on a corporate level to care about the organization and its assets. Go.
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You'll need something other than compensation to motivate. Start with leadership, and drive the vision forward. Peter Drucker, in his "5 Most Important Questions", said it was more critical for this alignment in non-profits than non-profit organizations.

What is our Mission?
Who is our Customer?
What does the Customer Value?
What are our Results?
What is our Plan?

Leadership should, through conscious, hard, effort, carve these out of the raw stone, and commit to them every day - individually and as a single voice. It's the excitement of the "why we are doing this" and its exploration, which will allow leaders to continue to commit and be the wind in the organization's sails.

You need to highlight “What’s in it for me?” or “WIFM” to get everyone on board and their buy-in. By getting involvement from your team, they will more likely show commitment. This is a collaborative team effort and show humility by giving credit where credit is due.

William are you talking about motivating volunteers? Normally it's the involuntary ones that need motivating. With motivation, we need to know what motivates or drives someone. But in an organization, everyone has different drivers, so how do we convey the vision so that others have the same drive and passion we do? Well a good starting point is to highlight what everyone stands to gain, and just as importantly lose, through caring more about the organization and its assets. I've studied numerous leadership theories as part of my MBA, and one issue I find is that many are too warm and fuzzy and only want to champion the good points that motivate people. Why not also highlight what demotivates people, as a deterrent? I don't mean doom and gloom stories either. Say there was an asteroid that may hit earth in 1 year's time. We could join hands and sing Kumbaya while we discuss ways to divert the asteroid, and this might motivate most people. I would probably fall asleep, waiting for the leader that rallied the human race in its most critical time to take on the asteroid or face extinction. There's not many motivators stronger than self-preservation. Same goes for organizations: people's jobs, the viability of the company, the good of the community we live in etc.

Tie the project's vision & objectives to an individual's purpose. If you can do that and provide opportunities for individual recognition and team camaraderie, folks will have the necessary raw ingredients to catalyze motivation, but always remember that motivation stems from within and not without...


One of the many challenges associated with performance improvement sustainability in working with volunteer resources is avoiding volunteer burn-out. Over-work and/or over stress a “volunteer” for too long and you’re highly likely to experience a reduction in effectiveness, or even the loss, of the resource altogether.
Obviously, there is no monetary (e.g. salary, medical benefits, bonuses, etc.) remuneration for their efforts, so it must be of intrinsic value to them. Along with that self-motivation, it’s important to continually express appreciation of volunteers (even more so than with a RFT employee). That and providing them the BIG picture and a view of where their contributions fit in, offering training that helps them grow individually and periodically providing well deserved non-monetary incentives helps keep most volunteers focused and motivated.
However, keep in mind that, typically, a volunteer’s “attention span” is often only a little more than a year before they find another cause that captures their interest. A feeling of belonging may extend this departure from the Team.

Hello William,
In my experience, when we're leading volunteer people on something, they often are somehow motivated. Because they believe in the matter, or they perceive value in what they are doing, they have a natural talent on doing it, or they are trying to improve some weakness they have.
Anyway, whatever is the intrinsic motivation, our work is to keep the fire burning. And in my case, what makes it is creating and sustaining a trustful and transparent environment by letting everyone free to give contributions, giving personal feedback to each one, publicly recognizing the efforts they are making and giving the credits on the results achieved.
This kind of environment always tend foster high levels of individuals motivation and group morale.

Get to know your volunteers. Then take the experience you know and teach. The #1 way to motivate someone is to show them how to get from "their" point A to "their" point B. That's why they volunteered in the first place, to learn how.

I agree with WIIFM. It does not matter if you are getting paid to do something or doing it on a voluntary basis, you need to know what is in it for me. For volunteers it is actually much simpler than for a paid worker in that to motivate a volunteer you just need to make sure they know that what they do is important. There is nothing more demoralizing for a volunteer than just being there and not knowing how they are contributing to the cause.

1. Show respect
The most important aspect of managing volunteers happy is to show them respect.

2. Communicate
Regular meetings are vital as they will give your volunteers a sense of direction, especially at the beginning of their service.

3. Have an open door policy
Try to be accessible and approachable.

4. Find common goals

5. Recognise achievement
The effect of recognition and praise plays a huge part in keeping volunteers motivated.

6. Build team spirit

7. Encourage development and training

8. Accommodate
Try to be as flexible as possible to your volunteers.

9. Have Fun, they are here to help and have a good time.

10. Provide free food

11. Positive Feedback, it is important and healthy

In my experience, there are new volunteers and experienced volunteers, and both groups need different treatments. You need both.

All the points made in this post are valid.

Olympic games use thousands of volunteers for short time frames of 3 weeks. There are best practices, maybe you can ask IOC or other sport organizations.
PMI has more than 10.000 volunteers globally, many of them serving since 10 and more years in different positions (I am one of them).

The new volunteers are curious, they don't know what will happen, so you have to make sure expectations are set, there jobs are well defined, they are trained and welcomed, you do not overload them and you make sure the experience they have is enjoyable, so do an explicit debrief, and recognition.

Experienced volunteers need training to lead other volunteers (best if a leader is assigned to less than 10 other volunteers), they are coming back, so there is a motivation, do not spoil it. As volunteer leaders, they experience a reputation uptick, they are asked by new ones what will happen, their achievment is to help make it happen. They still need all the perks of training and recognition. Experienced volunteers might tell you that they see this activity as a sandbox for leadership, influencing without authority.
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"There are two types of people in this world, good and bad. The good sleep better, but the bad seem to enjoy the waking hours much more."

- Woody Allen