Traditionally the definition of volunteerism has included phrases like ongoing long-term, planned-action, organizational context, charitable in nature, and lacking expectation of compensation. And though these still can apply to volunteerism they seem to no longer define it. As volunteerism continually takes on new forms and attracts an increased variety of people, the science of finding, correctly placing and keeping each volunteer a satisfied member of a program has morphed from a game of checkers to a game of chess. Not only are there more types of pieces to manage, the strategies used for each piece changes over time. Although each volunteer program cannot be expected to be a perfect fit for every volunteer, by understanding your current ‘program personality,’ learning about each volunteers’ needs and how these needs will change over time, you can optimize your program’s success even in this new volunteerism environment.
Despite the frustration that might come with this ‘game change’ for volunteer management professionals, it is important to recognize these changes and find a way to adapt our programs so we can appeal to and manage this new conglomerate of volunteers efficiently. The consequences if we don’t could include decreased volunteer numbers, lack of diversity in the program, higher rates of turnover, or a decreased ability to support our non-profit through volunteer service.
Program Personality vs. Volunteer Types
In “The Multi-Paradigm Model of Volunteering,” the authors divide programs and volunteers into four categories, based on their being either objective or subjective, and being either radical or stable. These categories are: traditional, serendipitous, social-change, and entrepreneurial. Below I’ve focused on using these four types to describe volunteer programs, giving us the opportunity to compare who we are as a program to individual volunteer types we interact with regularly. (individual types are explained fully at http://www.volunteertoday.com/PDF/multiparadigm%20POLF.pdf). Hopefully making this comparison will help us figure out who naturally fits well in our model and how we can increase satisfaction in those volunteers that do not naturally do so.
Traditional (Objective/Stable) – You provide consistent ongoing volunteer roles that are predictable. Changes are made to your program infrequently and current policies and procedures are based off of those from the past. You expect volunteers to stick to the volunteer role they were originally given and thrive when everyone does what they say they are going to do. When you do undergo change you allow your volunteers, who have a lot of experience and knowledge help steer the direction. You are having a hard time finding a way to fit highly-skilled, episodic and mandated volunteers into your program. Your program reacts to organization needs. Recognition takes the form of public thanks and traditional banquet and award ceremonies.
Serendipitious (Subjective/Stable) – You have some regular volunteer roles but volunteers can easily come and go as they please and regular volunteer hours are not a requirement to participate in your program. You have a variety of one-time or episodic opportunities to accommodate volunteers who want to apply a specific skill or work on a specific project. There is a good balance between making sure both the non-profit and each volunteer is comfortable and allowed to move at its own pace. You sometimes have an issue with ongoing volunteers getting upset by other volunteers who come and go. Your program focuses on making sure your volunteers are enjoying the process of volunteering and making sure they feel like they are making a difference.
Social-change (Objective/Radical) – Your program isn’t afraid to move things around on a regular basis to test if you can improve your current state. You aren’t afraid of change although you are determined to make changes that are for the betterment of the volunteer community versus for individual needs. There is a plan and structure behind each change and although you change things often, the changes are measured and success from each change is looked at objectively. You expect volunteers to trust your motives as a change agent and support change without necessarily knowing the full context behind them and run into issues when volunteers’ problem solving efforts do not match your program’s direction. Volunteer roles typically expect much and look for highly motivated people to fill them.
Entrepeneurial (Subjective/Radical) – Your goal above all else is to do good and your focus is on seeing a problem and fixing it, without necessarily doing so in a structured way or using a proven model of success. Independent from other non-profits and possibly other departments in your non-profit, you still can work with other organized groups to accomplish your goals. You are open to volunteers having major input on how you serve the community and actually rely on their creativity and ability to adapt at a moments notice to drive your program forward.
Maintaining Volunteer Satisfaction For Each Type Over Time
In “The Three-Stage Model of Volunteers’ Duration of Service,” it states that volunteers find satisfaction and their decision to stay in that role from different things depending on how long they have been in their volunteer position. By looking at volunteer types, and what will increase their satisfaction in three stages, a program can optimize volunteer service duration and program success.
Stage 1: In the initial stages of volunteering, a person’s service duration can be predicted by how much they think their needs will be met. They focus on the positive outcomes of their new volunteer role whether it be helping their community or the tangible benefits they will receive for joining the role. Traditional volunteers are motivated by promises of recognition events and a smooth volunteer intake process. Serendipitious volunteers will be made happy when given the opportunity to own their own process as they start a project. Social change volunteers will start in a role when they see a strategic plan for the program or organization. And Entrepreneurial volunteers will enjoy getting to a lot of space to make decisions.
Stage 2: While volunteering in their first year, volunteers notice the negative outcomes of volunteering and their service duration is dependent on if they believe the positive outcomes outweighs these newly realized negative ones; if so they will continue to volunteer.
In the 2nd stage Traditional volunteers will have cause to leave if a stable and very regular role cannot be obtained. Serendipitous volunteers will struggle if they are not given flexible schedules or too many policies. Social Change volunteers will have issues here if they are made to do something in a way they see as inefficient. Entrepreneurial volunteers will stop working well if they are placed in a generic role that doesn’t allow them to have a real effect on the organization or the mission.
Stage 3: Beyond a year, volunteers have a stronger chance of remaining in their role if they begin to identify their volunteering as a fundamental part of who they are, regardless of the initial positive or negative outcomes they previously identified or relied on for decision-making. Here although a volunteer might identify negative aspects to their volunteer role, their personal link to the role keeps them in it. If a volunteer doesn’t naturally match your program type it is difficult to have them reach this point with you unless they have found a supervisor that understand their individual needs or they intensely identify with the mission of the organization.
Knowing what affects a volunteer’s longevity changes over time, as well as what type of volunteer each person is can help you navigate through the ever-growing number or supervision or recognition tactics you may have to utilize in any given day. Although the variety of volunteers is growing, the amount of time and effort you use to manage them can remain the same if you just know what you are dealing with.
Further Understanding Your Program
To further determine what kind of program you are and how you can address a more diverse group of volunteers, ask yourself these questions. Based on your answers think about how your program personality is affecting who is joining and staying with your program. Who might it be pushing away and how can you adapt?
- How open to change are you?
- How structured is your program?
- How able/willing are you to accommodate individual volunteer wants and needs?
- How many different types of opportunities do you have (ongoing, episodic, one-time, informal, group, residential)?
- What types of people seem to be attracted to your program?
- What types of volunteers thrive in your program?
- What level of interpersonal interaction do you supply to volunteers?
- How controversial does the public perceive your non-profit to be?
- How dependent on volunteers is your non-profit?
- How well does your program recognize volunteers equally regardless of their time commitment or level of involvement?
- How important does the general public view your non-profit’s goals when compared to other non-profits?
- How well do you measure prospective volunteers’ organizational commitment during your intake process?
- How often do you gauge your volunteers’ satisfaction and measure it against how long they have been with the organization?
Molly Kennedy Lageson
Volunteer Resources Specialist, Science Museum of Minnesota