The Frustration of Volunteering

The Frustration of Volunteering

This past year, my family and I have been volunteering for Lutheran Social Services to help refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan relocate to Savannah. I admire the work that Lutheran Social Services does with refugees. It’s a huge job and they do so much with so little. And because of a lack of resources, they rely heavily on volunteers. One of our jobs has been to help coordinate volunteers. And I learned something this past year. Volunteers, well, they just aren’t reliable. It’s not that they are flakey, it’s just that volunteers, even retired ones, have very busy lives. I would say the amount of time we have spent just trying to coordinate volunteers to help is many more hours than we have spent directly assisting refugees. I confess, I don’t get my “volunteer kicks” by doing administrative and menial tasks. You might be the same. And while as a business owner, I know the critical role of administrative tasks, I don’t enjoy being on the phone begging people who have “signed up” to show up. As fundraising consultants, one of our common recommendations is that the nonprofit “engage their donors with volunteering opportunities.” I now understand why the typical response from the client when they hear me say this is a sigh and roll of the eyes. It does seem the amount of staff time, effort and resources to recruit, train, coordinate and manage volunteers just isn’t worth the result. And that’s a shame. One solution is Psychic Pay. My business partner Joe Churpek blogged about this a couple of years ago, you can read about it...
The Volunteer Myth

The Volunteer Myth

Go to any fundraising conference these days, and I will bet you a $2-bill that someone will be presenting that the best way of lifting your donors’ performance is by inviting them to volunteer. We’ve done a couple of research projects with volunteers, and I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. I take that back. It’s a great idea if the volunteer experience is awesome. Unfortunately, our research shows that too often donors have an awful volunteer experience. And rather than enhancing the relationship with the organization, it only demonstrates to the donor how incompetent the organization is. Not really the desired result, huh? So if you are going to try to engage your donors with volunteer opportunities, make sure that you designate the resources to make it an awesome experience. This is no place to cut corners. If it’s not going to be an awesome volunteer experience, don’t bother. It will do you more harm than...
An Effective Framework for Evaluating a Volunteer Program

An Effective Framework for Evaluating a Volunteer Program

Volunteer Satisfaction is a nuanced and complicated concept. Accurately measuring such a thing is consequently a tall order. The key to simplifying (and as a result, optimizing) your research plan is to build your study around a strong theoretical framework. I can thank my friend Dr. Steven Goodwin for having introduced me to the concept of Psychic Pay. This theory proposes that our satisfaction at work comes from more than just the paycheck we receive. We each have a short list of basic human desires in need of fulfillment. When we are fulfilled in any of those ways, we receive “psychic pay” for our effort. Gratification beyond a paycheck? That’s the very definition of volunteering and why I chose to use this theory for some recently completed volunteer research. So what are these basic needs your volunteers crave? According to this framework there are 3 and the status of each can be exposed through a simple yes or no question: 1.) Inclusion – Do your volunteers feel they belong? 2.) Control – Do they feel their contribution makes a difference? 3.) Affection – Do they feel appreciated? If the answer to any of these questions is “No,” that volunteer is already drifting away. When you see the list it seems very simple and that is exactly the point. We’ve turned the abstract concept of “Volunteer Satisfaction” into three manageable research questions. With that clear direction we can begin to construct a survey instrument or qualitative discussion guide. Of course, there are many factors that drive the answer to those 3 magic questions (quality of training, communication with leadership, job...