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How to Hold Volunteers Accountable

For many of us, volunteers are the lifeblood of our organizations. They staff our fundraisers, set up for our events, spread the word in our communities and so much more. In some cases, nonprofits are run entirely by volunteers. And while many of your volunteers are beyond helpful, there are some that are, well, not so helpful. Here’s how you can appreciate and hold volunteers accountable.

Be transparent from the start

This should go without saying, but spelling out guidelines and expectations right away is crucial with volunteers. A lot of times, volunteers think because they aren’t receiving compensation that they can put in whatever effort they want to a project or event. That’s a dangerous mindset to have, and if you let volunteers maintain that way of thinking, it will only become harder to hold them accountable. Tell them when they need to arrive at an event, who they should report to and what they should accomplish before leaving. Be available to answer any questions should they arise.

If volunteers need to be trained before they start, make sure you have the capacity to do so. All too often organizations decide to take on more volunteers than they can manage, and some of them become dead weight. Know your limits and abilities, and gauge your volunteer strategy around it.

Don’t be afraid to give them the boot

If a volunteer isn’t ultimately benefiting your organization, let them go. It’s as simple as that. Not only will it make your nonprofit leaner, but it will show other volunteers that you mean business. To be clear, you shouldn’t be the volunteer manager who instills fear in every potential volunteer—that’d be very counterproductive. Let them know if they’re underperforming, and tell them why. If they refuse or are unable to change their behavior, it might be time to find someone new.

Show your volunteers that you take your job and your nonprofit seriously, and they’ll match your passion in the work they do.

Positive reinforcement

Just as you should let a volunteer know if they’re not meeting expectations, you need to provide positive feedback to those who are meeting or even exceeding them. Recognize them among your other volunteers, or, if you’re able, host a banquet that celebrates the great things your volunteers are doing.

If you have a hierarchical volunteer structure, make sure you’re promoting those who are going above and beyond. They’re the ones who want to propel your organization forward, and, chances are, they’re going to be around for a while.

There’s no perfect way to interact with your volunteers—we utilize them in hundreds of different ways. But if you maintain transparency from the get-go, let them know if they’re not meeting meeting expectations and reward them when they are, you’ll find yourself with a much more accountable set of volunteers.


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