Blog post, by Roxci Bevis
September 24, 2018
The Thing That Stands Out
Action-packed days, last minute requests, and oh so many random hurdles faced and conquered on a daily basis. Managing volunteer resources to assist in the delivery of an organization’s programs and services is our job. It’s fun, exciting, and rewarding. For some, it’s what they were born to do, and it seems effortlessly flawless. For others, though still loved, it can be time-consuming and demanding to ensure effective program results. And no matter where we’re at in our career, it always pays to learn new things and explore new ways of motivating and inspiring our volunteers.
We know the steps of volunteer management: recruit and train volunteers; then continuously motivate and inspire them to become an integral part of the team, work hard, never get bored and stay long term. Sounds easy, right? Not! When we don’t have wage raises as a foundational motivator for role performance and longevity, like managers of paid employees do, it can be challenging at times, to motivate volunteers; especially volunteers who have been in the same position for a long period of time. Volunteers find us because they support our cause and want to give back to their community, which is awesome – but is this what will inspire them on a daily basis, once accepted for a position, to complete their volunteer duties to the best of their abilities without losing inspiration?
Inspiration feeds motivation. Sometimes volunteers feel like their contribution makes less of an impact after they have been with the same organization in the same role for a long time. Others can feel this way when there are no other positions available for them to grow into within the organization. People can start to feel bored and lost when they are set in a routine for too long and frequent encouragement really does help. When motivation drops, it doesn’t mean the volunteer stopped caring about the cause, but it could mean that they need some inspiration from their manager, the face of the organization to our volunteers. In volunteer programs, lack of inspiring communication from the leader can play a part in volunteers feeling bored and unmotivated. We know our volunteers are diverse and require different levels of engagement, but is there a secret to motivating more volunteers to stay long term without losing passion for their role?
From providing excellent training, to throwing volunteer appreciation events and sending birthday cards, or implementing a volunteer suggestion box – there are lots of amazing skills and tactics that help us motivate, inspire, and lead our volunteer teams to success and longevity in their roles. After volunteering and working with so many charities and non-profits, which would not be able to operate without their amazing volunteer programs, I have seen many approaches to volunteer engagement. Managers of volunteers constantly find themselves needing to engage and motivate groups of volunteers to get enthusiastic about new initiatives, a major change, or even a project that could be considered lacklustre or tedious. Some tactics work better than others with different groups of volunteers, and some skills come more naturally to different volunteer managers, but is there one that stands out?
There is one that stands out above all others, that I’ve seen serve Volunteer Managers really well over the years, and bonus, it’s surprisingly free. It is called storytelling. You’ve probably heard this before. I know I have so many times at so many conferences. But doing is the hard part. When we actually practice this skill as leaders of volunteers and learn how to get it just right, it really does work to continuously inspire long-term volunteers.
Storytelling can be your secret weapon. Storytelling is a key tool for managers of volunteers because volunteers most often already support the cause, but over time need reminders of why they became a volunteer in the first place. Storytelling works well for managers overseeing high numbers of volunteers spread out over different projects with minimal staff involvement, as well as smaller volunteer teams and one-time events. Graphs and charts leave some volunteers mystified. Pdf attachments in emails and printed manuals on-site often remain unread. Feedback conversations, though needed and effective, can be a slow process and might still not lead to renewed motivation with certain long-term volunteers.
Our memos and emails don’t often motivate our teams. Volunteers are most inspired by memorable interactions with their managers that inform them of relevant important information and recognize their accomplishments. Passionate and knowledgeable leaders provide motivation for continued satisfaction in long-term volunteers. Storytelling is a great way for managers of volunteers to create memorable moments that spark renewed enthusiasm, foster collaboration, and create high performing teams.
Effective storytelling creates a connection. When completing orientations and training with new volunteers, implementing new policies with long-standing volunteers, or relaying critical communications from the organization with all your volunteers, storytelling is an effective way to instill immediate confidence in your message and continued understanding of the organization’s mission and values. A good story reinforces what you have to say and encourages buy-in from volunteers.
Storytelling tips and techniques:
- Practice, practice, practice!
- Follow this simple story pattern: situation, problem, actions, result
- Know your goal: what is the point of telling your story?
- Be simple, honest, and authentic – use real stories.
- Relate stories to what your volunteers do in the organization to support the mission.
Including stories in your newsletters, in all your meetings and trainings, and in your everyday conversations with volunteers will inspire them regularly so they remain inspired and motivated for the long haul. Mix it up with different kinds of stories: the effects of your cause in the community, volunteer successes and recognition, about your industry in general. These stories can have a major impact on your volunteers and leave a lasting impression. This remarkable skill, that can be learned and eventually perfected, will be able to help you become an even better leader who methodically inspires action, dedication, and loyalty, and with ease, among all your volunteers.
Will you give it a try?
About the Author:
Roxci is a freelance Project Manager and Content Writer, experienced and trained Volunteer Manager, and AVRBC’s Administrative Assistant. As an enthusiastic AVRBC member, she believes that administrators of volunteers are essential to volunteers’ success in every volunteer-involving organization. Roxci has not only lead multiple volunteer teams across the lower mainland, but she has also been a volunteer in the community for over 20 years herself. Focused on helping at-risk youth overcome barriers and working towards food security in our city, she’s volunteered for many organizations like Kidstart, Free To Be, YMCA, and the Vancouver Fruit Tree Project as a grant writer, youth program facilitator, and board member. She has also worked as a program manager for organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Coast BC, Surrey Urban Farmers Market, and the White Rock South Surrey Hospice Society. Roxci enjoys sharing her insights from volunteering, working with so many amazing volunteer programs, and meeting so many interesting and dedicated Volunteers in our communities across BC. She is amazed by what volunteers accomplish in our daily lives.