December 2, 2012

What Do Volunteers Want?

Posted in Best Practice, Celebrations, Leadership, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , at 4:10 am by Sue Hine


It’s coming to your place this week, this annual splurge to celebrate volunteers and volunteering.  It’s a day established back in 1985 by United Nations General Assembly to:

Promote the work of volunteer-involving organisations and individual volunteers   

Promote their contributions to development at local, national and international levels.

There’ll be civic functions and a ministerial speech or two, maybe presentations of service awards, and lots of nice words said about volunteers and their work.  We can say thank you forever, and of course we do that a lot more than one day a year.

Big question: Will International Volunteer Day really be about promoting the work of volunteers and their contribution?  Saying thank you is not the same as doing a marketing programme.

Second question: Has anyone thought about what volunteers really want?  Has anyone asked volunteers this question?  Not why they volunteer, but what volunteers think is important to get the best out of their volunteering.  Because in the midst of all the applause for volunteers on December 5 I know there are continuing complaints about volunteering that does not go well.

Here is a check list for measuring expectations:

  1. I want to know what the organisation stands for, its mission and values – who, and what, I will be working for.  And I want to know what is expected of a volunteer.
  2. I want information about volunteer opportunities, job outlines, training programmes and support.  That training had better be good too, for me to do a good job.
  3. I’m happy to fill in all the forms, answer the questions, reveal all that info that can be checked via an official database, and I want to know why you want all these details, and the about the security of your security systems.  (Disasters in other fields in New Zealand this year have made me a bit nervous.)
  4. Yes, I shall complete all the training, but please explain why that health and safety stuff is important, even if all I will be doing is making cups of tea.
  5.  I would really like to be buddied with another volunteer until I feel confident in doing what you expect of me.
  6. That’s why knowing about back-up is so important.  Can I get answers, have a conversation, feel free to call in when I need to?
  7. I want to feel included, in the volunteer programme and in the work of the organisation, so I never have to say “I’m just a volunteer”.
  8. It would be good to know what my rights are too.  Do I dare lay a complaint if things go wrong?
  9. I get a real buzz when people say ‘thank you’ to me – service users and staff – and it’s also nice to go to those functions like IVDay where I can meet up with other volunteers.  Please keep this up!
  10. I really like the newsletters that keep me informed on what is happening in the organisation, always including a bit about volunteers.  And yes, I follow the Facebook page too.

That’s the basic stuff I go for when I volunteer.  I had to learn it the hard way, through the best of times and the worst of times.

That’s how I learned about management of volunteers too.  And I keep on learning from volunteers who tell me what they want.

One more thing – there’s a lot to be learned when volunteers are asked some good questions in an annual survey, and specially when they leave.



  1. Jane Kibble said,

    Wow Sue,thats some food for thought for the First day of the week that we are celebrating International Volunteer Day!A mix bag of emotions are stirred.


  2. David Rowland said,

    What would we do without you to politely remind us of all the basics of good volunteer programmes. A big THANK YOU to you for everything from all of us.


  3. Salle-Ann Ehms said,

    A good checklist, thanks Sue. I’m already mentally going over what I say during recruitment, training and orientation and it’s prompting me to re-start a newsletter (if I can work out how to convince management that they don’t need to send someone out to do an WH&S check of a virtual volunteer’s private residence!)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: