You can lead a volunteer to giving, but can you make them give?

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Interviewing potential volunteers is one of the greatest parts of the volunteer recruitment process.

Think about it. Someone has come out of nowhere, and they want to donate their time to you. Not just any time, but their priceless, unwaged, free time.

When they come through your door, one of the first questions you'll likely ask a new volunteer is what it is that drives them to give their time to your organization for free. But managing volunteers isn't as simple as just harnessing this initial enthusiasm they bring with them when they first fill out the application form or have their initial interview with you. So how do you inspire them to give it their all once they’ve already signed up? You lead by example, that’s how.

As volunteer administrators we should approach our work as if we’re there of our own volition; as if we ourselves went through a door and told a fellow manager of volunteers, “I want to donate my time to your cause.”

Making it look as if you yourself are a volunteer is key to your volunteers’ success and that of your organization. I often find my volunteers mirroring others and seeking unspoken guidance, so as a volunteer administrator, I act in a way that I’d like seen reflected in our organization and volunteers.

I recently volunteered at an AIDS fundraiser in Vancouver. This event forced me to get out of bed on a Sunday morning; a sacred work-free-zone for many of us nine-to-fivers. Admittedly my feelings were mixed the day of the event.

Sunday morning hit and I was shown what to do, but what truly inspired me to do my best was the energy and intention that my trainers were putting into their work, and the genuine enthusiasm of all the other volunteers. Getting out of bed so early on a Sunday to give back to the community never felt so satisfying. The rest of my day felt that much better because I had given of my time to a good cause.

You can give a volunteer all the practical training in the world, but if your actions as a leader are not authentic and guided by your heart, then your volunteers will sense that. Remember, they are there for free and want to give back as much as they gain from the experience, so setting the bar high by starting with yourself is not only implementing best practice, but it’s also incredibly inspiring.

I tell my volunteers that they must govern with their hearts, and lead with their heads. I assure them that we will give them all the practical tools they need to be a part of our programs. Their only responsibility is to bring colour to their work, and to allow their work to be guided and governed by their heart. I ask them to remind themselves constantly of what brought them through our doors in the first place, and to never let go of that intention. As volunteer administrators, we must do that same. Through the ups, as much as through the downs.

Because at the end of the day, if your volunteers see you putting 100% into your work, then they’ll do the same.

Samuel Ramos is an instructor in the Langara College Volunteer Coordinator Certificate Program.

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