Volunteerism has become part and parcel of our programs and projects today. With proper volunteers’ establishment, we can achieve the goals set for our projects whether they are short-term or long-term. Always remember that if you consider working with volunteers, your project timelines must be flexible and fixed to fit in the schedule of the volunteers.
When speaking about volunteers, words like; recruitment, retention, and motivation are always in consideration. Recruiting volunteers may be easy at the start of a project but retaining them especially on a long-term project may be tricky. First and foremost, you have to know your volunteers well and even their intentions. Some volunteers may have their own agenda while others may be able to stay from the beginning until the end of the program.
As you work with volunteers who give their time, talent and skills for free, you should develop a culture of appreciating them. On a daily basis, words like: thank you, good job should be part and parcel of your life. You have to smile when chatting with them and offer a firm handshake every time you are greeting them. Their thoughts in a community based project, matter a lot and therefore listen to them. Once in awhile, consider providing refreshments whenever you have a gathering with them.
I worked as a volunteers’ manager in a USAID funded program in Kenya for 7 years learned so many things about volunteers that I would like to share with you. When you launch a new project in any community, look out for already existing; Faith Based Organizations (FBOs), Community Based Organizations (CBOs) and Women Groups. I realized that most of these establishments in Kenya are formed voluntarily. All you have to do is to find out how to fit in. You may find the best volunteers from these kinds of organizations.
Volunteers are always available in every community, and awaiting any new project. You have to be very careful because by the time you arrive, they may have an idea of what you are going to talk about. Remember they have seen hundreds or other organizations before your arrival. You must make your intentions well known. Explain the goal, mission, vision and what you intend to do with them on the very first day you meet them. If you start well, you will be able to succeed and achieve the goals of your project. You wouldn’t want to be in a situation where volunteers start asking for money going by the way you are handling the finances of your organization.
In a short-term project, the best strategies to consider when recognizing your volunteers include;
- Calling your volunteers by names to make them feel connected to you.
- Return their calls frequently whenever they call, don’t let a day pass.
- Make t-shirts, special caps, badges that show they are part and parcel of your organization.
- Never forget to say thank you whenever you gather your volunteers together.
- Make it easier for your volunteers to attend meetings (provide means of transport if need be and shorten the meeting times as much as possible)
- Do not keep your volunteers in a whole day meeting. Remember they have families to attend to.
- Publish blogs about your volunteers and talk about the good work they are doing.
- Consider purchasing for them credit/ talk-time/ airtime to load on their cell-phones, when they are doing work for your organization.
- If you happen to take photos while they are working in the field, print some and bring back to them. You can go further and place the pictures in a frame. I have seen this kind of strategy bring smiles in faces of very many volunteers.
- Organize a Christmas party for your volunteers; reward them with little shopping of basic needs and appreciate them for a good job over the year.
In a long-term project, the best strategies to consider when recognizing your volunteers include;
- Honor your volunteers after several years of service to your organization.
- Consider them for community based trainings that will broaden their skills and knowledge.
- Provide them with certificates or trophies at the end of the program period.
- Involve them in making annual plans for your project from the beginning until the end of the program.
- Let your volunteers be on the forefront in organizing community meetings.
- Let your volunteers be part of the mid-term and end-term evaluation of your project.
I believe with all these and all other good things that you may think of for your volunteers, you will succeed. Make your volunteers speak good about your program even after the completion.