Volunteers “Unplugged”

volunteers unplugged

How much time do you spend with volunteers “unplugged”?

One of the most common questions in the various online groups and forums that I belong to is “What’s the best volunteer management system”? Now don’t get me wrong; VMSs are amazing tools for helping streamline and organize a volunteer program and they can free up a remarkable amount of time. They and other technological tools and platforms have become arguably a necessity in our sector.

Unfortunately, a common result of our dependance on this technology is a lessening of focus on the actual human relationships between the volunteers and the leader of volunteers.

I think it’s time to refocus on spending unplugged time with volunteers!

I’m not saying you should get rid of your technological tools. You need them. Just don’t assume that they take the place of a real, personal relationship with volunteers. The relationships that you build are vital. They are the linchpin of successful volunteer programs.

This need for personal relationships is even more vital with remote volunteers. Many times they may not have any direct contact with staff or other volunteers unless the leader makes an effort to reach out. Despite the physical distance, leaders must find ways of creating real connection.

There are a number of reasons why.

We learn more about the volunteers.

Direct contact allows leaders to understand the unique strengths, skills, and motivations of each volunteer. Yes, much of that information can be uploaded into the volunteer’s online profile. But it’s in friendly, one-on-one chats that you discover skills or abilities that they never thought were useful. For example, a volunteer probably wouldn’t put on their profile that their hobby is watercolour painting. Yet you just happen to be looking for someone to create a special poster for an event. It’s only when we have a true relationship with a volunteer that this information comes out.

High volunteer turnover can often be traced directly to a lack of personal contact.

The more contact volunteers have with a computer vs a person, the easier it is for them to walk away. If 90% of your emails to a volunteer are automated, that volunteer won’t have the emotional connection to the organization that leads to retention. No matter how carefully you craft the email, even if their name is inserted at the top, they can tell the difference!! Time spent with volunteers unplugged fosters a sense of belonging. If you can become friendly with a volunteer it overcomes the transactional nature of task assignment and supervision, instead creating bonds based on liking and shared purpose.

A good relationship can provide advance warning of issues.

When volunteers are comfortable with you, they are more likely to share information about conflicts they see brewing or problems that may be in the initial stages. The more advance notice that you receive about this kind of challenge, the easier it is for you to address those issues before they escalate. Years ago, I had a volunteer take me aside to tell me that one of the people I supervised was starting to harass another volunteer because she wouldn’t go on a date with him. He had always been very respectful when I was around, so I would likely never have found out if the volunteer hadn’t felt safe enough with me to speak out. One or both of the volunteers would have just quit. Because I learned about it early, I was able to deal with it capably and tactfully. Both volunteers stayed for as long as I was with the organization.

Volunteers who feel a sense of community are more likely to become advocates.

Positive experiences and stories shared with friends and family can become powerful recruitment tools, bringing in new volunteers and supporters. You, as the leader, are the one most instrumental in fostering that sense of community. And the only really effective way to do that is to spend unplugged time with the volunteers in your program.

Spending time with your volunteers unplugged can add to your workload.

I realize that. Especially for those of us whose role as leader of volunteers is only part of our duties, the time required to build all these relationships can seem overwhelming. It is, though, one of those things that take time up front, but saves time in the long run. Fewer problems, less recruiting, less paperwork when volunteers leave. These are just some of the ways that personal contact can save you time.

So use all the technological tools at your disposal to help streamline your processes and make your work easier. Then use the time they’ve saved you for chatting with volunteers – unplugged!

Share the Post:

Related Articles

recruitment tactics
Karen Knight

Five Free Recruitment Tactics

Social media is no longer as effective as a way to bring in volunteers, as algorithms get in the way of many people seeing our posts. Here are a few other free recruitment tactics to try.

Read More
mission matters
Karen Knight

Mission Matters

When it comes to recruiting volunteers, your mission matters more than anything else. Keep your focus on the mission and people will come.

Read More

Download Resources

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get notified about new articles