Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! Luke 6:31 (The Message)
While in college, I belonged to a service organization and one spring directed a day long event called “May Day Play Day.” Thousands of children and disabled adults came to the campus for games, boat rides, entertainment and a picnic lunch. We mobilized hundreds of students to make costumes, plan shows, host games, make food and chaperone the guests. It was in that year of planning for May Day Play Day that my beliefs about volunteer recruitment and retention were born. That was thirty one years ago this month, and I have since spent a lifetime of working with volunteers. Today, when a coworker asked me for advice on developing a volunteer program, I summed it up my belief in one succinct statement, “Let them know that they are part of a family, but treat them like guests.” In other words, get to know them so well and make them feel so needed that they want to stay and be a part of your organization, but never, ever, take advantage of them. When prodded, I elaborated. Make sure you have the right volunteer in the right job. Screen volunteers by interests and experience, but don’t assume a retired teacher wants to work in the education program! That may be last thing on their mind. After all, they used to get paid for that. Their happiness may come from planting garden, refinishing furniture or minding the gift shop. Training is key. Volunteers must be comfortable in the work that you give them. They must also know that what they are doing is valuable and why it is important to your organization. Value their time. Don’t have them come to your site if there is nothing for them to do. Don’t switch their schedule. They like to know when you expect them so that they can make other plans. Make them feel welcome. A volunteer should never arrive or depart without a greeting and a thank you. Make the work enjoyable. Even the dullest work, cutting out patterns or collating papers, can be made fun if you present it that way. Give opportunities for volunteers to make new friends and socialize with their fellow workers. Remember the value of their gift of time and experience to your organization and reward them for it. Provide public and private recognition of their donation and importance. Get to know their family and their activities so you can ask them about their life and be concerned about what matters to them. Everyone in the organization should understand the importance of volunteer retention and work to make volunteers desire to come back to your site, week after week, year after year. Evaluate your programs frequently to make sure you are being effective, and give volunteers an opportunity to change roles if they like. Whether in a non profit agency or everyday life, relationships, volunteer or otherwise, all boil down to this, “Treat others as you would want to be treated.” That’s all you really need to know.