Managing volunteers can be very different to managing paid staff. For example, some volunteers can be logistically more difficult to manage than salaried staff because they may work remotely, or at irregular times, and for different shift lengths. Alternatively, you could find yourself managing someone who could be considered "more senior" than you in their day job which may make you feel uncomfortable. Furthermore, volunteers are of course unpaid and so they don't have the same motivation or incentive when they come to work. In fact, there are often a number of different reasons why people volunteer so be aware and sensitive to this; understanding people’s purpose for helping you is the first step in understanding how best to manage them.

If you are familiar with a few of these scenarios, the following creative ways to successfully manage volunteers could help.

Understand why they are volunteering

As mentioned above, everyone volunteers for different reasons. They may have altruistic motives; they may be looking to learn new skills or gain work experience; or they could simply see volunteering as a great way to meet new people. Understanding why your volunteers are helping you can go a long way to knowing what support they need from you. For example, someone who is volunteering to gain valuable work experience might appreciate extra training compared to someone who is volunteering to give back to a cause or the community. Be sure to understand a volunteer's motive before assuming how much guidance they may or may not need.

Break up roles into specific tasks

When thinking about finding a volunteer to help with upcoming tasks you might find yourself telling your volunteer team ‘we need a volunteer to do PR’ or ‘we need people to help with an event’, however, you are going to get much more out of the volunteer(s) if you break down the role into smaller, specific and more time manageable tasks. Instead, be very clear about what you need when asking your team for help. 'We need a volunteer to write a press release and liaise with journalists’ and ‘We need a volunteer to look after the event registration stand for four hours’ are much more effective in expressing exactly what you need and should encourage volunteers to put themselves forward for the job they are best qualified to do. They will subsequently be easier to manage and support.

Think about what you can offer them in return

Volunteering should always be a two-way street and there are several ways you can give back to your volunteers to thank them for their support. Could you organise regular volunteer get-togethers or parties? Do you have any partners who could offer them discounts, prizes or rewards with local shops or businesses? Perhaps you could offer your volunteers training to help them grow their knowledge or learn new skills. Needless to say, be active in always thanking your volunteers for their time and efforts, because for some this may be all they need to feel like their work is appreciated.

Use their unique talents to support your organisation

It's very true that most people have several different skills, or have experience in more than one industry or profession, all of which could help your organisation. The trick, of course, is figuring out what they are! The best way to do this is to ask, but sometimes people can be shy so you may need to come up with scenarios to encourage your volunteers' other talents or expertise to shine. Team meetings where you brainstorm about fundraising, or informal social events are a great time to ask your volunteers what else they can offer. Even quick, casual conversations over a cup of coffee in the morning may be all you need to find out that a volunteer is a former accountant, an accomplished photographer, or a writer in their spare time, all of which could be relevant to your organisation. Get to know your volunteers and see if they might be able to support you in more ways than one.

Always say thank you!

Managing volunteers can be challenging, but when you take time to get to know their background, to check in with them regularly, and to break down their roles into specific tasks it can really help create a positive experience for both you and the volunteer. Most importantly – remember to always say thank you at the end of their shift!

And don't forget, all charities, non-profits and volunteer organisations receive a 25% discount with Findmyshift.

About the author

Jen Lowthrop is Findmyshift's own all-star writer and a blogger. With more than a decade of experience in volunteer management and marketing, Jen also ran her own local deli/cafe. When not writing for Findmyshift, Jen blogs about her travels at She Gets Around and can be found talking about travel, branding and business on Facebook and Twitter.