Man holding bunch of carrots

Never use sticks on volunteers. Carrots, too, are a poor choice. The word volunteer from the Latin root velle means 'to will, to wish', as in wishing to do something from one's own free will, without coercion or payment. Motivation however - is another thing.

Carrots (or carrot sticks) might be okay for community gardeners. But these external rewards are of limited value. It's the internal, or intrinsic ones that get people volunteering.

American psychologist William Glasser suggested five basic needs that motivate humans:

  • Survival (food, shelter)
  • Freedom
  • Fun
  • Power (to make a difference) and
  • Love and belonging

Without all of these needs being satisfied on a regular basis the average human will decline into unhappiness and illness - mental and/or physical.

So, if you plonk a volunteer in front of a computer and get them to do data entry alone for three hours, what needs are you satisfying? Unless they're there for Centrelink payments or the air-con, probably none.

By all means find out why your volunteers why they are there, and don't be afraid to enhance the experience.

One woman who volunteered for Taronga Zoo wanted to be closer to the animals,. For two years she was stuck at the front gate as a 'greeter'. She stayed for that long because she developed a peer group, not because she wanted to greet the public. Her need for love and belonging was all that kept her there.

Another joined a community garden to enjoy gardening with and learning from other gardeners. Sadly she could =not bear the ongoing conflict between two of the men there, so she left. It was not fun.

A young man volunteered as a digital mentor. He was greatly appreciated, practical revered for the way he could help people with their devices. His needs for power and belonging were being met. 

Brainstorm and develop ways to enhance the volunteering experience so the 70% of volunteers that don't return after their first shift, do!

See the excellent article Six rules from the experts for effectively managing volunteers at Ethical Job's Not-For-Profit People site.



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