At a recent For the City Collective breakfast, we held a panel discussion on the topic, “Doing More with Less: People” at the For the City Center. During the collective we discussed:

  • How leaders can build strong teams
  • How to create trust within the team
  • Caring for your employees holistically
  • Valuing volunteers
  • Managing an emotionally complex workload
  • Retaining people.

One of the themes that emerged was the critical importance of treating your volunteers well; by doing so they will be more fulfilled and the organization’s retention rates will be high. But how to do this? It starts and ends with the basics - treat your volunteers as you would want to be treated. Here are four simple steps to remember when working with volunteers.

The key to retaining volunteers starts with deciding that you need them.

1. Determine if working with volunteers is worth your time.

This first step is foundational: Ask yourself, is it worth your time or your team’s time to work with volunteers? This is a tough question and deserves an honest answer. It may be that the reason you’re frustrated with your volunteers is because you don’t actually have the time or interest, but saying no to “free help” seems like the wrong choice. Let’s be clear here, there’s no such thing as free, for you or your volunteer. It takes time to get the right volunteer, staff resources to train, direct and supervise that volunteer, and then of course supplies, reimbursements, and appreciation gifts. But done well, engaging volunteers can be the single best thing you can do for your organization. Don’t engage with volunteers because your organization should, do so because they are a critical part of your strategy.

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