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Volunteer Power!

Volunteer Power News — Number 38
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

© 2006 Advantage Point Systems Publishing

A warm welcome to all volunteer managers—those of you who recruit, motivate and mobilize volunteer workers.

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In this Issue:

1. Motivating Volunteers

One Dozen Effective Ways to Motivate your Volunteers

The best, most effective way to motivate volunteers is to create a culture that stimulates the inner motivation of each volunteer. The following dozen ideas are ways to create a volunteer culture that says, “Thank You.”


I was talking with a volunteer fireman last month who told me that his participation in the volunteer fire department totally fell off when the fire chief made a decision that backfired.

The fire chief always had a list of the volunteers on the wall with the number of calls they responded to each month. The fire chief had felt that the chart was a waste of time, so he decided to stop posting the list. The volunteer fireman that I was talking to told me that he lost count of the calls he was responding to, because every time he’d hear the fire call he began to choose not to go. He thought, “I’ll go next time.”

After a few months, the fire chief recognized his mistake because most of the volunteers said that when they saw their name on the wall and the numbers of calls they were taking had fallen off, it motivated them to bring their numbers up.

The fire chief reinstated the list and immediately the numbers went up.

Motivation principle: competition or accountability (in this all-male volunteer fire department the motivation principle was male ego).

Positive Gossip

When someone says something good about a volunteer, I tell that volunteer about it. It almost seems to get more reinforcement value second hand. The other day I was talking with a business colleague, and she told me how much she appreciated Gary’s leadership. And then she said, “Wow, I don’t know how Gary does it. He not only puts in hours at work in a very stressful job, but is so involved in our Rotary community projects. Gary is a leader that I really respect, and we all know that he will never let us down.” The next week I saw Gary and my first words to him were, “Hey, we were just talking about you last week.” And then I told Gary what my friend had both said about him.

Motivation principle: Wow, people were saying nice things about me.


Remember the roll call on the TV show of the 80’s “Hill Street Blues”? A huddle is like the roll call. It is a quick, stand-up meeting just before the volunteer shift or duty. The purpose of the huddle is to go over assignments, update communication, introduce new volunteers and most important take the opportunity to recognize a very specific action of a volunteer. Be very specific such as . . .

“Today I want to say thank you to Tom for his special work yesterday. He came in early and put together all of our packets for our session today. That is so Tom. Thanks a bunch for all you do to help us (state your mission).”

At the end of the meeting, do a cheer. If you have seen the training video, FISH, about the PIKE’s Place Fish Market in Seattle, you will notice that at the end of their morning huddle the all put their hands together and give a shout.

Motivation principle: Constant communication. Without feedback, I don’t know where I stand.

Thanking the Family

Write a note to the family members of a volunteer thanking them for their support of the volunteer, acknowledging the good work their family member has done and explaining the importance to accomplishing the mission of your organization.

Motivation principle: Encouragement (and discouragement) from family members is huge.

Logo Apparel

Provide all of your volunteers a top quality (don’t scrimp) shirt, sweater, T-shirt, sweatshirt or cap to wear when they volunteer. This not only provides a uniform, professional look, but volunteers will wear their apparel in public—advertising your mission. One caution, make sure that only volunteers get the apparel. Make them special.

Motivation principle: Volunteers are cool.


Provide a special break room for just volunteers and make sure that you have plenty of snacks (Krispy Kreem, fruit, coffee, juice, soft drinks). Keep the refrigerator full.

Motivation principle: Food is always a motivator.

Visit the Break Room

Although the volunteer break room is off limits for the staff, it is not off limits for the executive director. In fact, the E.D. should visit the break room every day just to say, “Thanks for all you do to _______________ (accomplish our mission).”

Motivation principle: In a large organization, most members never get to talk one-on-one with the CEO or executive director.

Restaurant Gift Certificates

Restaurant gift certificates for special recognition are always winners. And they don’t have to be to the most expensive restaurant in town (although that is nice) but even a $5.00 Starbucks or Ben and Jerry’s gift card to all of the volunteers is a great thank you that helps the volunteer feel appreciated. And by the way, sometimes these places will donate gift certificates to your organization—because they know that when the people come to cash them in, they usually spend more.

Motivation Principle: Food plus special recognition.

Flower Power

“Flower Power” is a growing promotional tool. Flower and plants are good gifts because there is a great variety to choose from, selections for any budget and no worries about people’s taste, their size, wrapping or shipping. And perhaps best of all flowers are considered one of the most thoughtful gifts, available to express many different emotions.

Motivation principle: A very special recognition and/or thank you for a special occasion.

Treasure Chest

The treasure chest is a huge box secured with a padlock filled with gifts. When you recognize a volunteer, you bring them up (like at a huddle) and give them the key to the box. They can choose a gift. The gifts are often gift certificates, coffee mugs, pen-and-pencil set, movie tickets.

Motivation Principle: Recognition, fun and surprise.


Most volunteers, even though they have a passion for the mission of the organization they volunteer for, would prefer to volunteer in a fun environment in which they can enjoy their assignments and coworkers. A fun environment includes specific celebrations for appreciation.

Motivation principle: If you can reward a volunteer and have fun in the process, you will satisfy two important motivational drives: to be appreciated for the work they do and to enjoy their jobs and organizations.


Most association conferences are held in resorts (I know because I speak at these conferences a lot) such as Maui, San Antonio, Orlando, Seattle, San Francisco or San Diego. Send your volunteer leaders to these conferences so that they come back with a new passion and vision for your mission.

Motivation principle: Volunteers get special privileges.

So what is common in all of these?

The common denominator is personal recognition and respect. The personal “thank you” is the greatest motivator. Thomas J. Watson, Jr. former CEO of IBM said, “Our early emphasis on human relations was not motivated by altruism, but by the simple belief that if we respected our people and helped them respect themselves the company would make the most profit.”

Executive Coaching or Training Your Volunteer Managers

Make your volunteer managers aware of the following:
• The 21st Century volunteer
• The importance of restoring the passion in the organization and volunteers
• The changing demographics of the volunteer organization
• The importance of branding and marketing

Call Tom McKee (916) 976-0359 or e-mail at Tom@volunteerpower.com for what it would take to have Tom train your volunteer management team, your volunteers or be an executive coach for your organization.

Sample Workshop: Mobilizing the Power and Passion of the Volunteer

At the end of this workshop, participants will know the following:
• How to frame your recruitment message to get a "yes"
• How to manage the high maintenance volunteer
• How to awaken the passion for the organization, board, committee or project How to increase volunteer retention
• How to recruit and retain the new volunteer—the 21st century busy person

Course Outline - Ten Effective Recruitment and Retention Principles
• Passion and power: How to mobilize the power and passion of the volunteer team.
• Volunteers don't volunteer—they must be recruited: How to recruit today's busy person.
• Motivation is an inside job: How to create a volunteer culture that stimulates the inner motivation of the volunteer.
• Gen' Yers get involved and can make a difference: How to recruit and mobilize the Gen' Yer.
• People get involved in causes—-not organizations: How to awaken a passion for your cause.
• Power communication: How to frame your recruitment message to specific groups.
• Position driven or people driven—there is a major difference: How to determine the position and fill that position for your leadership team
• Empowerment is not delegation: How to empower the volunteer, without going amuck (dropping the ball). How do manage visionaries with wild, outrageous ideas
• The 21st century volunteer: The old volunteer structure doesn't include the new volunteers. What structures need to change in our volunteer management programs.
• Volunteers from Hell: Managing the high maintenance volunteer. Firing the high maintenance volunteer with managing doesn't work.

Thomas W. McKee
Volunteer Power

Tom McKee is a leading volunteer management speaker, trainer and consultant. You can reach Tom at (916) 987-0359 or e-mail him at tom@advantagepoint.com. Other articles and free resources are available at www.volunteerpower.com.

For more articles by Thomas McKee, visit the Articles section on our website.

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