Building Relationships

woman with childrenVolunteers may come to your agency through a variety of channels, for various reasons, and with varied expectations. Yet most will sustain (or increase) their involvement for the same reason: they feel valued and appreciated for doing work that matters.

Make volunteers feel welcome every time they come to work. If possible, give them a dedicated space – even a modest one – where they can sign in, catch up on news, and store their belongings. Beyond the obvious convenience, you’ll instill a sense of belonging that encourages long term relationship.

The strength of the bonds forged between staff and volunteers will be a key determinant of program success and volunteer retention. Don’t assume that staff already knows how to work with volunteers! They may need coaching to adjust their work habits in a way that accomplishes their assigned duties while fostering a collaborative relationship.

Treat all volunteer assignments as equally important. New volunteers should feel as welcome as long-standing ones. Consider pairing new recruits with experienced volunteers to accelerate their learning curve and foster a sense of community. Check in with all of your volunteers periodically to ensure that they are having rewarding experiences.

Finally, let your long-term volunteers know that you’d gladly partner with them to explore other assignments as their needs and interests change. Volunteers who have been working with babies and toddlers may wish to extend their learning curve by working with preschoolers, and vice versa. Support services workers may develop an interest in being classroom assistants. And some folks will want to deepen their relationship with you by taking on multiple roles!

Relationship Resources

PDFThey’re Not Elves: Creating a Collegial Climate for Volunteers (Nancy Gaston, Gifts Differing)

PDFKeeping Baby Boomers Volunteering (Corporation for National and Community Service)

PDFBest Practices for Engaging Leadership Volunteers (SMART)

PDFSeven Secrets of Volunteer Management Success (MeChelle Feldkamp)

PDFFive Common Missteps in Managing Volunteer Relationships (Susan Trone)