Blog Volunteer Management

Blog Volunteer Management


Nonprofit professionals understand the importance of volunteers – many agencies couldn’t function without them.They’re ardent supporters who get hands-on. On January 20th, in collaboration with the Desert Botanical Garden’s Monarch Society, YNPN Phoenix hosted a panel discussion that explored the topic of successful volunteer management. 

The event focused on maximizing the power of volunteerism by understanding what motivates people to volunteer, what volunteers need to be successful, and how you can turn them into lifelong advocates for your cause.

Three expert panelists shared their knowledge on this topic: Michal Tyra, Executive Director of The Manifesto Project, MaryLynn Mack, Deputy Director of the Desert Botanical Garden and Alicia Kenney, Director of Social Services for House of Refuge. Here’s what they had to say about making the most of your volunteer program:

Understand why people volunteer:

Generational motivations:

-       The Great Generation volunteers because it’s the right thing to do. They’re consistent, appreciate clear direction and enjoy developing a sense of community amongst each other.

-       Baby Boomers come with certain, set ideas of how to help. Let them know how they can make the most impact and keep them updated on how their work is helping.

-       Gen Xers often use volunteerism as a resume builder. Between career development and family time, they don’t have much time to go around, so be sure to provide options.

-       Millennials have the same altruistic motivation as the Great Generation, but they want to do the right thing on their own terms. Flexibility with this generation is key.


-       Some volunteers sign up to build their resumes or make professional connections. Others may do so to gain exposure to new people, places and things, or to learn what a similar job might entail. Whatever the reason, give them the opportunity to gain the experience they want.

Desire to make a difference

-       This is glaringly obvious: People volunteer because they care about what you’re doing! They want to help advance your organization’s cause, it’s up to you to put them in a position to succeed.

“Don’t tell me volunteers can’t be the backbone of your organization, because they should be,” Michal said. “The value that volunteers bring is vital; it shapes the way our community is going to progress in the next five to ten years; especially young professionals, who are more cause-driven.”

 Here are 5 ways to make the most out of your volunteer program: 

 1. Treat them like future potential donors

a. Volunteers are investing time into your organization and deserve the same investment from you. As Michal shared, “Young, emerging donors will almost always start as volunteers. Millennials won’t just mail you a check and be satisfied with attending a couple of events. If a millennial donates, it’s to an organization that they really feel a connection to.”IMG_7273.JPG

2. Engage and celebrate them

a. Volunteers have the most rewarding experience when staff members take the time to get to both know and acknowledge them. MaryLynn offered this insight: “Don’t dismiss the importance of face-to-face interaction. Conversation builds trust.” She also reminded attendees that “other volunteers are your best form of recruitment” so treat them well.

3. Give them options

a. Volunteers come with different skill sets, lifestyles and motivations. Put them in a position to be successful. It is the organization’s duty to make the volunteer program work for the volunteers, because if it doesn’t, those volunteers will look for other opportunities.

4. Provide clear expectations

a. Tensions can arise when expectations are mismatched. Be upfront and honest with volunteers about what the work entails, and make sure they’re all in. Put your expectations in writing by assigning job descriptions to tasks.

5. Have actual work for them to do

a. There are few things worse for an eager volunteer than showing up and having nothing to do. “Use the volunteer!” Alicia said. “The reason people want to volunteer is because they want to be useful and helpful. Look at every department and program in your organization and think of how you you can utilize volunteers.”

All three panelists emphasized the fact that, like any strong program, volunteer management takes time and effort in order to be successful. By understanding your volunteers – what drives them, what their interests are, and what they want out of their volunteerism – you can ensure a fulfilling experience for both sides. And when you find yourself on the other side of the table, keep these things in mind to be a great volunteer: be passionate, be honest, and give feedback.

Nora Kish

Communications and Marketing Manager at Highway Twenty

YNPN Communications Committee Member