November 2, 2015
November 2, 2015


by Vickie Pleus of viaHardy Smith

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is a delightful 2003 flick starring Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey (before he became a serious actor, you know), that has become one of my go-to Sunday afternoon brain soothers. I’ve memorized all the dialogue.

It just so happens that I also double-check my week ahead on Sunday afternoons, starting with family obligations and work, and followed by time for hobbies and volunteer commitments.
Volunteer commitments: they are last on my list and the first to be cut, especially when, it seems, so many organizations don’t know how to treat volunteers.

So, what does it take for volunteers put your nonprofit on their commitment chopping block? I have a few ideas for you. I’ll call it: How to Lose a Volunteer in 5 Ways, as homage to Hudson’s and McConaughey’s delightful performances. Is your nonprofit committing these volunteer-courting faux pas?

1. Don’t give your volunteers specific tasks or roles. Have you ever been a volunteer or board member who simply shows up to meetings, is given an agenda and a packet of paper, votes “yea” a few times, and goes home or back to work? It’s not very fulfilling, is it? Never forget that instead of being there they could have been home on time with their kids, sipping a glass of wine, having lunch with a friend, or working at the job that pays them. So, before the meeting, assign a duty, and at the meeting, have them report on it.

2. Don’t ask their opinion. Opinions are like noses: Everyone has one, and they want to stick it in your business! Ask your volunteers what they think about the staff’s ideas, ask them how they would solve the problem, and ask them what they would do differently. So often organizations present the problem and the solution, asking for the volunteers’ blessing. Involve them in the process and get their buy-in earlier.

3. Don’t give their business a chance to benefit. Unless volunteers are retired, their employers (even if they are self-employed) want to get some recognition for their involvement. Sometimes it’s as though Chambers of Commerce are the only organizations that care that people work for companies. Give your volunteers a chance to share company news before your meeting starts, include their affiliation in your volunteer recognition materials (including web listings – think “hyperlink”), and recognize the businesses as sponsors of your organization. Time is money, and if their employees are giving time, it’s costing them.

4. Don’t recognize their personal lives. Did one of your board members or volunteers have a health scare? Lose a loved one? Move to a new house? Have a baby? Hardly any major life event is a secret anymore (hello, Facebook), and a handwritten, mailed note or card remains a thoughtful touch which a text, e-mail or Facebook message simply cannot compare to.

5. Don’t thank them for their service. Three little words that make most volunteers’ hearts skip a beat: We appreciate you. Work a thank you effort into every project you can. Why can’t it be as important an element as a monthly financial report?


Now that I’ve recommended what not to do, you know what to do. Don’t be like Kate and Matthew: They wasted an hour-and-a-half misunderstanding each other. I just gave you a head start on Volunteer Relationships 101. You’re welcome.

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