Volunteers who experience a sense of community at the organization they are volunteering for are more likely to commit long-term. Many sources support this notion and detail exactly how to foster that sense of community. The Minnesota Literary Council is just one of those sources, citing the work of psychologists McMillan and Chavis who studied communities. They suggest to:
1. Foster each volunteer's sense of Membership
This is acknowledging each volunteer as a part of your organization by small ways such as giving them a nametag to bigger ways such as providing work space to volunteers.
The American Red Cross in Dubuque is one agency that takes this recommendation seriously. They contact each volunteer once that volunteer signs up with them. First, Volunteer Services gives a personal phone call to thank them for offering their services. Then, the volunteer is invited to an orientation that provides the volunteer information on how the agency works. Staff often also attend the orientation, which is a great way of making sure your volunteers feel a sense of membership within the agency. Volunteers are then added to the volunteer roster and invited to attend meetings where new volunteers introduce themselves and meet. Volunteer Services at American Red Cross also has its own volunteers that contact new volunteers to see how things are going for them at Red Cross.
2. Creating a sense of Influence
Volunteers feel more comfortable when they are given direction, asked for feedback, and trusted in leadership positions.
For example, volunteers at the Circles Initiative in Dubuque are empowered to be influencers. There are five planning committees of Circle leaders and community members, both volunteers, that plan Circles meetings. These committees lead and plan weekly Circles meetings, as well as secure meals and childcare for participants. Staff at Circles are always asking for feedback from their volunteers and give leadership opportunities to their volunteers. When a volunteer asks for a leadership position that is not available, staff works hard to create the positions requested.
3. Contribute to each volunteer's Integration and Fulfillment of Needs
Volunteers are more likely to stay with an organization that gives them meaning in their work as well as makes them feel like they are part of the organization.
For instance, training is provided to direct service volunteer at Cedar Valley Friends of the Family, which has locations in Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, and Dubuque. The staff conduct the orientation which integrates volunteers into the organization. There is a yearly Volunteer Breakfast, which is a volunteer appreciation event where certificates of recognition go out to volunteers who have spent up to one hundred hours volunteering for Cedar Valley Friends of the Family.
4. Develop a Shared Emotional Connection
Reach out and make connections with your volunteers. Foster a sense of community where volunteers can get to know each other.
The Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens has a Facebook page where volunteers frequently put up pictures of the gardens they work on and share their experiences of volunteering. Facebook is a great tool for sharing emotional connections and making connections with others!
Above are just a few of many examples to secure long-term commitments from volunteers. So, what will your organization implement to make volunteers feel at home and appreciated?