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How to Engage Volunteers

It makes sense to assume that if volunteers are recommending their volunteer organisation to their peers, friends and family that they already have a positive connection. However, what about those volunteers that are a little on the fence…and you don’t really know what they are saying to the outside world? To understand volunteer engagement, present and future commitment, pride and motivation, means we need to look at how a volunteer feel about the organisation, their team and the work they do.

When thinking about a sustainable volunteer workforce, engagement, recruitment and retention go hand in hand. Engaged people are often eager to recommend their organisation as ‘a great place to work’ to their peers, friends and family. This is very important because one of the biggest drivers to recruiting volunteers is word of mouth…so we need that to be positive. A sense of belonging has particularly higher correlations to engagement for those who have been historically underrepresented or felt left out. Therefore if you really want to sustain a volunteer workforce, it’s important you look for ways to ensure they feel they continue to belong in the organisation and most importantly in your team. To gain a better understanding of your volunteer’s sense of belonging isn’t difficult and some simple strategies can assist you in gaining a clearer picture of where improvements could be made.

1. Seek feedback

Find out if your volunteers feel as though they belong by collecting information from them. Surveys and feedback questionnaires are a wonderful place to start. With this information you will be able to take action and measure progress. Encourage frank and fearless communication by being open and encouraging feedback from your team. Even if the feedback isn't favourable to you, acknowledge and respect different perspectives from the people you lead.

2. Make it social

Bringing people together can provide an environment where people feel they belong. People seem to form favourable views towards people with whom they spent time, even if they were people they previously disliked or had stereotyped unfavourably.

You could create social bonds through:

  • Structuring teams differently

  • Group work to solve specific problems

  • Designing social areas to create more opportunities for conversation

  • Bringing together outside teams and industry peers to build social bonds.

3. Share your story

Narrative is such a vital component of Leadership, it creates openness and positive influence. Understanding another person’s story – the broader aspects of their life, such as hobbies or outside interests, concerns or hardships – can dissolve interpersonal barriers and dispel the limitations that people often impose on themselves.

There are many ways to encourage the sharing of personal stories in your team and it can start with asking questions about other’s experiences. Successful leaders are often heard retelling positive stories from others in the organisation, over and over again. It’s such an authentic and effective way to highlight the importance of belonging, especially when its anchored in real life experiences owned by other volunteers.

4. Be intentional about inclusion

Unless leaders and other team members consciously try to be inclusive, exclusion can occur by accident. This is something that as a leader you should be present to….ensuring cliquey groups and silos are discouraged and inclusion is a priority. Leaders, please be mindful of your actions and how they can influence how others perceive their sense of belonging. This means more that ensuring everyone is on the invite list to meetings or social gatherings.

A few approaches to consider are: –

  • Ask for suggestions and ideas from individuals rather than bringing it up in a group meeting

  • If you are in a group meeting, ensure everyone has the opportunity to present their ideas, formally or informally.

  • Be clear about how decisions are made, and don’t make the decision with only a few select members.

  • Silo thinking is not supported

  • Clicky groups are disbanded and gossip is not tolerated

5. A shared vision

Shared purpose, values, and goals can significantly contribute to a person’s feeling of belonging. People feel a sense of belonging when they believe the work they do is significant. Communicating your vision in a way that motivates people is the key and it’s important to remind ourselves that our vision isn’t just a nice statement to hang on the wall.

Where is your brigade, group or unit heading…you are the leader so where are you taking them?

Have a written description is vision board of what your unit will look like in the future. What is most important, what is the end goal? What will it look like, what is important, what will it feel like? Ensure volunteers can contribute and that as a leader you ‘walk the talk’ and help they understand how they can help design and contribute.

6. Trusting relationships

Developing belonging should not only happen among peer groups. Those who have a trusting relationship with a mentor (or manager) are better able to take advantage of critical feedback and other opportunities to learn.

You can facilitate trusting mentor relationships by:

  • Having a formal or informal mentor program.

  • Learning coaching skills to provide support and get the best of your team.

  • Coaches provide wonderful support to those they work with and learning coaching skills is a valuable asset in all aspects of life.

Gold Coast QLD, Australia

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