Managing Volunteers -Tips for Volunteer Managers

Ideas to say thank you to your volunteers

Managing volunteers is the trickiest of management situations. It requires a share of intentionality, planning, and even mind-reading.  #Volunteers #Volunteermanagement (sorry, this is for my Twitter feed). 🙂

First of all, volunteers are not staff. Duh, right?

Unlike staff, they are not aligned with your organization because of a paycheck. I like to say, volunteers are “paid in the currency of the heart”. They serve because they care. Either they care about your mission, your constituency, or about you, the

volunteer manager. Regardless of why they are serving, it’s because something (or someone) has touched their heart. Exercise caution with issues of the heart.

Note: as I’ve Googled this, I think I made this up- the currency of the heart. Brilliant huh. Maybe I should write a book.  

Okay, back to the subject.

Money is cheap compared to the “heart currency” of volunteerism. Hey, a person can get a check from anywhere, but they cannot get “that feeling” one gets from giving a piece of themselves to a cause they care about. That is why volunteer managers must treat volunteers like royalty.

Like many volunteer managers, I used to think one-dimensionally. I thought volunteers gave their time and resources only because of their commitment to an organization. Then, a wise colleague carefully advised “Yes, they are committed to the organization, but don’t forget the relationship component. Many volunteers do so because they like you. You can get them to do things no one else in the organization can because of their esteem for you”.

Wow. I was schooled.

I saw this play out in real life when I transitioned into another department. The volunteers I had worked with for years began to drop like flies! They left! Boy, she was right. Don’t underestimate the power of relationships in volunteer management. We have to cultivate those important relations and express appreciation often.

Anyone who is effective understands the value of planning. Right? So, why not plan how you manage and appreciate your volunteers? If you’re into Twitter, I mean really into it, you know about the myriad of apps available to schedule tweets.

Consider using your electronic lists on your phone, or a calendar to schedule interactions and opportunities to thank your volunteers. I scheduled mine on my calendar so I would not forget. Schedule at least three efforts every month.

Week one: direct contact via email, text, or phone call. Ask “how are ya?” “How is your day”

Week three: email a fun graphic.

A simple “thank you” graphic created with the app Canva (or some other graphic creation tool) could work wonders toward saying “thanks” and making your volunteers smile.

I created the one above in like 2 minutes and then shot it off via email. No big deal, but something simple to let them know I appreciated them.

You may manage volunteers in a nonprofit.
You may manage volunteers on the parents’ advisory
council or even in a church.

 Volunteers are people  who help you without being paid monetarily.

Regardless, remember
to be intentional about demonstrating your appreciation.


You can also send online articles they might be interested in or share a thought via BrainyQuote.Com. It doesn’t take much.

Don’t forget, volunteers have different needs than paid staff. These needs vary by personality, temperament, and motivation. My True Colors workshops can be easily tailored to meet the needs of volunteer managers. But, in it’s simplest component, remember that people are motivated by different things.

For example, some people volunteer just to make the world better.

Others just want to help others.

Some folks are driven by the intellectual challenge of solving problems.

My favorite is the people who want to work because the world is “going to hell in a hand-basket”. I love “Gold” folks!

Build relationships to know what is important to your volunteers. Then reward them in meaningful sincere ways.

The best way to know what’s on your volunteers’ minds (and what is important to them) is to ask them. You can choose to meet with them regularly as a group or in a one or one setting. You can even send out an anonymous poll via Survey Monkey to find out how things are going. Keep your ear to the pulse so you know what they are thinking and feeling, ok?

No way around it, you gotta know what is on their minds.

If you don’t, you could lose them by not meeting their needs or expectations.

Now, when you receive feedback or critiques from them, don’t take it personally. Instead, make the adjustments (you are able to make) and move forward.

In my experience as a trainer, I’ve discovered the nonprofit sector is largely made up of “Blue” people. These are the coaches, motivators, and world-changers in our community.  So, the Blues rule. This means feelings can get hurt. Don’t let that happen. Look at feedback as a way to get better.

Finally, the biggest mistake you can make is to treat volunteers like “paid staff”. They don’t have to be there for you.

Make it worth their time to serve with your organization. Make it fun to be part of it. Make it meaningful.