The Challenge of Managing Volunteers

Managing a team of people is challenging, fun and rewarding. You need to give them guidance, set goals and deliverables, provide feedback and foster a top notch culture. If someone on the team isn’t living up to the expectations of their role, they risk losing their job and income. Losing the income from a job is key… many people fear it and this sometimes helps motivate them to perform. But what happens when we take money out of the equation… what about managing volunteers?

Volunteers are likely choosing to be a part of the organization, but many times they do not NEED to be there. They have other commitments to balance and sometimes your team doesn’t get first priority. This requires creativity from the manager to motivate their team to be as loyal to the volunteer opportunity as they are to a paid position. Below are some strategies I use at the NU Entrepreneurs Club:

1. Foster the passion

People are motivated to perform when they are passionate about what they are doing. From a management perspective, this means having a deep understanding of the people on your team and finding roles and responsibilities that align with their passions. Asking the computer wiz to volunteer to take on customer service activities might not work too well. 

2. Pay in experience

This holds true especially for student volunteers. Students are constantly looking for new experiences to add to their resume and have as success stories to share during interviews. Provide your volunteer teammates with valuable experience and real responsibility so they can learn. Education and training is highly valuable and in the right scenario can be an excellent form of compensation.

3. Rock the culture

People want to be in an organization with a culture that fits their values. At the Entrepreneurs Club, that culture is based around open doors, transparency, dedication and accountability, among others. Each organization will have its own unique culture, but it must be comfortable and supportive for your team if you want them to keep coming back.

4. Make it fun and interesting

Volunteering is on my own time, so I will likely opt to do something that I actually enjoy. Consider how you can blend the lines between work and fun in your organization. At marketing firm Influences@, my friend Spencer Bramson conducts meetings in a McDonald’s style ball pit and has an entire wall of Nerf guns. Needless to say, I enjoyed my meeting in his office. Perhaps for other organizations it is trips or getting to interact with really interesting customers, or free stuff.

5. Enable ownership

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: people care more about their own stuff then they do about yours. When a person owns something, they feel a deeper attachment to it and are more likely to put in the effort necessary to make it great. This translates to having your volunteers take real ownership over projects or facets of the organization.

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