Making the Most of Volunteers

Following is a guest post by Lori Tsuruda who led a training on Effective Volunteer Engagement at a Socializing for Justice ProfDev. Learn about these monthly professional development trainings held in Boston at

We can’t afford to waste time, ours or that of potential volunteers, so we must strive to attract, identify, and support people best suited to help us further our charitable missions.

Like the hiring process for paid workers, charities need to identify what we seek in terms of attitudes, skills, interests, availability, etc., captured clearly in Position Descriptions, but since no paychecks are involved, we must seriously consider the needs and motivations of volunteers best suited for our organizations and our needs.

However you prefer to think about motivation, from Maslow to Pink, in today’s “What’s in it for me?” culture, the most effective recruitment messages should be motivationally-based for maximum attractiveness. Leading with the benefits and/or opportunities volunteering has to offer is a great start.

Furthermore, we need to structure the recruitment process so that it results in great matches as a result of reasonable, appropriate effort. For example, if tasks can be completed by not-necessarily-skilled volunteers, but volunteers must be healthy and show up one time, then the process will be less intensive than for larger roles requiring special training or experience and longer time commitments.

The Public Speaker’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Improving Your Communication Skills has two podcasts on good hiring practices, shows 141 and 142, in which Lisa B. Marshall describes good screening practices that definitely apply to volunteers, not just paid workers.

It’s not good enough to make good hiring decisions and bring in new volunteers who are well-suited to help us. We must support volunteers so that their ongoing needs are met and they perform to our standards. This means that volunteers must report to someone within the organization, even if it is another volunteer — Volunteers can’t just do whatever they want, whenever they want, unaccountable to anyone.

It also means that our organizational culture should maximize performance as well as foster retention of our best people, but this is a much bigger issue than the volunteer program…

Lori Tsuruda is the founder and executive director of People Making a Difference® (PMD), a non-profit which organizes one-time, hands-on volunteer projects for individuals and trains and assists nonprofit leaders in quality volunteer management. She recruits and manages 750+ volunteers/year and helps charities and companies improve their community involvement programs. In the past 20 years, she has engaged more than 6,300 PMD volunteers in 950+ service projects helping 124 charities in Greater Boston. She is leading the Directors of Volunteer Administration (DOVA) in Boston for her seventh term. Connect with her through PMD’s Facebook page or