Six Ways to Make 2021 the Year of the Volunteer

Storey Six Ways to Make 2021 the Year January 7, 2021 By: Annie Storey, CAE

It’s the start of a new year, a great time to get motivated and reevaluate what works and what doesn’t. Here are six ideas to get the most out of volunteers, while also giving them a rewarding experience.

As a CEO or volunteer manager, if you or your volunteers found yourselves unmotivated and ready to just stop at the end of the year, join the club, no dues required. But now it’s a new fiscal year for many and a new calendar year for all, which likely means you’re setting new goals with a new crop of enthusiastic volunteers. You’re probably also ready to make some improvements—for your own sanity and that of your volunteers.

Here are six quick tips to motivate you and your team and refresh your perspective as you create new experiences for your members and—most importantly—your volunteers. 

Ask less of your volunteers. You read that right—less. This past year has provided some clarity about what matters most in people’s lives, and that clarity will determine where and how they spend their time. As a volunteer manager in an organization that depends on volunteers, you need to make sure that when your volunteers give you their time, you’re maximizing the opportunity. Less time will equal more output if the time they give is meaningful and goal driven.

Share your data. Who doesn’t like to know they are making a difference? You’re likely tracking communication and engagement metrics and sharing them with your board. Are you sharing that information with all your volunteers? Don’t wait for National Volunteer Week to tell them how meaningful and important they are. Pass the data points on to the volunteers and engage them in your celebrations of success.

As a volunteer manager in an organization that depends on volunteers, you need to make sure that when your volunteers give you their time, you’re maximizing the opportunity.

Check in. This past year taught us the importance of personal check-ins. Ask your volunteers questions to make sure that they have what they need and feel supported. Find out what their motivations are. Do they aspire to be a board member but haven’t stepped up to engage in a committee? Help them find that opportunity. This shouldn’t rest on one staff person’s shoulders—share the wealth and call your volunteers. You’ll find as much value in the conversations as they do.

Make it count. No matter the interaction with your volunteers, make it count. Know what your goal is. Here are some ideas:

  • Have a shared agenda before you join a committee call and give an update.
  • Set deadlines that are feasible for your volunteers and not stressful.
  • Focus on opportunities that will enhance your organization, not just fill a void.
  • Ask your volunteers: What can we stop doing? And then listen to their answers. If it’s not working for them, find a new way, or stop doing what you were doing.
  • Market your micro-engagement opportunities and be happy for your volunteers when they tell you they don’t have time for something. Let them know that you’ll be here when they are ready to re-engage.

Be the leader you need. It’s important to showcase the skills and language you want your colleagues to mirror, and that includes your volunteers. Meet your own deadlines and be present in meetings—in person and virtually. Demonstrate your expectations through your own actions, and your volunteers will notice.

Change things up. If you want highly engaged volunteers in 2021, then you need to have valuable experiences ready for them. That means there are things you should not do and should be willing to change if needed. For example:

  • Don’t ask for surveys or feedback unless you’re willing to make a change.
  • Don’t host a committee meeting when there’s nothing important to discuss just because you have a meeting every month. Wait until you have more agenda items.
  • If there is a process in place that you’ve used for years that isn’t working well, pause and re-evaluate.

This may be the year that associations put the volunteer experience at the forefront. Take a moment to discuss as a team how you’re valuing your volunteers and how you can improve their experience. 

Annie Storey, CAE

Annie Storey, CAE, is executive director of the Illinois Section of the American Water Works Association and chair of ASAE'S Component Relations and Volunteer Management Section Council.