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Managing Volunteers — Let’s Be Honest

judy Keller for proposals 2012Judy Keller, Executive Vice President

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

Volunteer management is so common that it has become a specialty, a career, a “Thing” … No doubt your organization has many wonderful people who generously give their time, talent and treasure while demanding little in return.  If so, count yourself among the fortunate nonprofits that have healthy volunteer programs.

But let’s be honest:  do you ever wish you didn’t have to deal with volunteers?  Or one in particular?

Then we’ve got some helpful tips for you.

As important as volunteers are to your organization, there are no doubt times an individual or group are a pain in the neck, not reliable, too opinionated, not opinionated enough, or just plain needy.

Having worked with hundreds of nonprofit organizations, JB+A has had the opportunity to learn what is most important to volunteers, while keeping them 1) performing at their best for your organization, 2) adding real value and 3) remaining satisfied.

Repeatedly in both formal and informal settings, I’ve heard two key themes from volunteers:

  1. Give them real work.
    No one wants to be superfluous or have their time wasted by an organization.  Don’t sign up three people to stand at a bike race corner when one will do.  Don’t give mindless paperwork without at least fully explaining not just the process, but more importantly why the work matters.  Don’t be afraid to give meaningful assignments that will challenge your volunteers and allow them to grow.
  1. Give them real thanks.
    Most people can tell when they are being patronized and it’s very annoying.  In fact, there’s no faster way to alienate a volunteer than to pour on false praise, unless it is to offer no praise at all.  As a manager, it is unacceptable to simply think you are not good at it.  Your job is to motivate and inspire people to do their best work and to create a meaningful positive experience for them so they will continue to help you fulfill your mission. Remember the statistics all prove that those who volunteer are most likely to also fund the organization they serve. Developing real working relationship with your volunteers will serve you and your organization well — today and in the future.

The bottom line?  Treat people the way you would like to be treated.

Are you interested in learning more about effectively managing volunteers? Whether it’s one volunteer or your entire volunteer management system, JB+A can help you and your organization improve volunteer productivity in fulfilling your mission. Contact us at or call 816.237.1999.

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