Use Their Skills
Knowing the background of your volunteer can provide valuable insight on where they may best fit into your organization. If they have a background in graphic design and you have them stuffing envelopes, you are wasting a lot of potential and it can create unsatisfied volunteers that do not feel appreciated. Even if this is a need for the organization, pair some of the monotonous work with other tasks that engage the volunteer’s skill-set and knowledge. It does not all have to be fun, but it should at least recognize what the volunteer can do.
Giving a task to a volunteer that directly relates to their knowledge and experience makes them feel valued and valuable to the organization- and shows them that the organization has taken the time to get to know them and invest in them. This strengthens the relationship between volunteer and organization more than is realized. So take the time to get to know them. Ask them about their educational background, work experiences, and interests. You can even ask them for ideas on how they want to get involved with your organization- they will probably surprise you!
Find Their Motivation
Placing your volunteers in a role based on their skills alone is not enough, however. The role and relationship with your organization needs to go deeper than that to address their motivations- both why they are volunteering with your organization and what drives them to be effective volunteers. And this will be different for all of your volunteers, just as it is different for your staff.
Understanding why they have committed using their time and talents to support your mission is huge. Learn how they came to learn about your organization and what grabbed their attention. Is there a program or service that lead them to become interested in your organization? Have they worked with similar missions in the past? Understanding their linkage to your organization and what made them want to support you will help define your relationship with them moving forward and better define their role as a volunteer.
Beyond their relationship to your organization, knowing what drives their work is important to keeping a long-term and loyal relationship. Just as you should learn what motivates your staff, the same is true with volunteers. And once again this will be different with every individual. Some common motivators include: verbal affirmations, small rewards and tokens of appreciation, broader recognition such as an award or shout-out in a newsletter, friendly competitions, etc. You can try many of these different methods and gauge the reaction amongst volunteers to discover what works best within your organizational culture.
There is also one very easy way to learn what motivates your volunteers: ask them. Talk to them, invest your time and attention on learning about them. It will pay significant dividends for a long time to come.
Understand Relationship Dynamics
This component of successfully placing volunteers is one that will potentially evolve over time. Understanding relationship dynamics between your volunteers and volunteers/staff will take time, and will probably change. So you will have to have the flexibility to evolve as relationships do.
Volunteers that have a positive relationship with each other and with staff members tend to stay more engaged with the organization over time. Being able to understand and manage the personalities and relationships within your volunteer base is not simple, and there is no “magic formula” to show you how to do it. If you can master it, however, it will radically improve your volunteer retention and satisfaction long-term.