How to actively motivate volunteers

Submmited by Nina Vredegoor on Tuesday, 1 March 2011

How can people be encouraged to get involved in voluntary activities and to take responsibility in issues that are not their direct personal interest? And how is it possible to keep their motivation alive when obstacles occur, aims set cannot be achieved, tensions and conflict emerge in groups or when long and intensive efforts lead to tiredness and frustration? Maaret Jokela, vice chair of Citizens of Europe and Agnes Uhereczky, director of the Association of Voluntary Service Organisations, had prepared a workshop in order to compare different experiences and identify best-practice approaches. Following group work and the presentation of different ideas, the participants together drew some conclusions.

As essential was seen the existence of clear values when actively reaching out to new volunteers, so they know what can be expected. The inability to present mission and goals of the own initiative in a short and simple message should be seen as a warning. Often an in-group then shares a lot of past experience and mutual sympathies but is not really focused on concrete aims and thus not able to involve others. Involving people from a peer-group helps to reach out to the target group. As reliability and persistence create credibility, continuous openness and active strategies towards potential volunteers are important. However, when people remain in the position of “doubters” too long, this can be an indicator for differences in approach, ideals and expectations between the initiative and the potential volunteer. In such cases it often seems better to accept incompatibilities than to talk people into something or to make them develop a bad conscious. A special challenge are people who are not included in civil society or who never learned to get involved in voluntary activities. Often they lacked role models in their youth. Such people tend to know about unfulfilled personal needs for belonging to a group and for taking a valuable position in society, but are worried to disappoint or to get exploited.

As the job market is bad in a lot of countries, looking for volunteers among people who are unemployed could be seen as an approach creating benefit for both the initiatives and the volunteers. However, in order to be really beneficial, such involvement needs to be rather short term in order not to exploit and lead to reduced efforts to enter the labor market again. In addition, it needs to be demanding and lead to improved personal skills and self-confidence. To keep people motivated, it is very important to appreciate them and give them a framework to work in. Communicating no clear expectations and concrete opportunities but rather the message “here you can do whatever you like” can easily be perceived as a lack of orientation or even as sign of non-interest. Essential are reliable personal relationships and a high level of involvement and attention by the people coordinating – something even harder to achieve if they volunteer themselves.

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