Motivating volunteers: 3 things charities should do

How should charities go about motivating volunteers to keep them on board, excited and less likely to leave?

Motivating volunteers: 3 things charities should do

How should charities go about motivating volunteers to keep them on board, excited and less likely to leave?

Motivating volunteers: 3 things charities should do

Meet the author

Tom Vickers


Motivating volunteers is so important for charities to excite and retain, yet is often difficult to achieve. 

At Clarasys, we love working with charities. We’ve done it since our very beginning – and have supported over 50 charities or not-for-profits since our inception. It’s something that pretty much everyone here gets involved with and we all get excited about.

These ongoing relationships have reinforced just how much charities rely on volunteers to do their work. Without the millions of hours people donate every day in the UK to good causes, the third sector could only deliver a fraction of its current impact. So, maintaining the goodwill of and motivating the army of people donating their time and skills, is something charity leaders try to prioritise.

A chunk of those daily hours are deployed running the inbound contact centres that many charities rely on. These contact centres often manage the inbound support requests from beneficiaries, whether via phone, email or live chat. Charity contact centres can be as varied, if not more, than the contact centres in the private sector. Many of the volunteers at these contact centres will be working with beneficiaries directly, at the front line of delivering the charity’s work – often experiencing first-hand people in distress or need (think of the work done by volunteers at Samaritans or Childline).

Engaging volunteers requires different tactics than engaging a salaried workforce. Even in the paid sector, motivating contact centre agents requires different emphases compared to motivating other roles in the organisation. Taken together it’s clear that creating engagement in a contact centre that’s staffed mostly with volunteers justifies some additional thought. Losing this engagement will probably cause your service (and beneficiaries) to suffer and your volunteer workforce to constantly churn.

Speaking to people working in these areas, there is definitely overlap in the factors you need to prioritise to keep contact centre agents engaged as well as to keep volunteers motivated. These factors will therefore be particularly critical when running a volunteer workforce in a contact centre.

What could these factors be? What should leaders of contact centre volunteers prioritise?

1. Emphasise continually the purpose or mission of the organisation

Contact centre work is often challenging and agents don’t always have the lure of high salaries, or constant career progression, to act as a motivator. And volunteers more obviously are not often driven by money or status. So both need something more, a deeper sense of purpose, to keep feeling inspired.

In the private and public sectors, contact centre leaders need to work constantly to find this “buy-in” for the organisation’s mission. Intuitively this should be easier for charities – however many volunteers stop turning up, or become demotivated, when they feel either mired in bureaucracy or that their efforts are not making a difference. So keeping contact centre agents, who are volunteering their time, fully engaged, requires an organisational purpose that feels authentic and relevant to their role.

How can you emphasise the purpose to motivate and engage volunteer agents?

  • Create a purpose statement (or mission) that articulates the social objectives of the organisation – something clear, without abstraction, that everyone can get behind
  • Reiterate the purpose at every opportunity (team meetings, town halls, 121s)  – and underline how the work done by the volunteers helps to deliver this
  • Share data that illustrate the value the organisation is creating as well as metrics that show where and how the contact centre contributes.

2. Focus recruitment on finding quality

Turnover at contact centres is high – usually about twice as much as in other roles. The temptation is therefore to create a high volume, factory-type, recruitment approach that rapidly replenishes churned staff without probing into deeper motivations or job-fit of applicants. This can create a vicious cycle of turnover.

At charities relying on volunteer workers, particularly when these workers will be deployed in contact centre environments, there may be a similar temptation to take on anyone and everyone who applies. However, here it is even more important to invest time to find people that have the emotional skills to do the job well and the commitment to stay the course.

How can you attract quality volunteer agents?

  • Make recruitment quality a priority for the charity’s leadership – ensuring they are close to the recruitment processes and understand its challenges
  • Ask questions to understand the motivations, values and levels of possible commitment of applicants during the interview
  • Continually review data from exit interviews to catch ongoing issues or patterns – focusing particularly on early exits
  • Try new recruitment channels if your current ones are not supporting retention.

3. Create a personal connection and feeling of value

Contact centre agents can sometimes feel isolated or undervalued – particularly if the contact centre is very busy, with little time for colleague interaction. This is a common reason for agents to either quit or limit their contribution. At charities, volunteers also usually want to feel that they are genuinely valued if they are to carry on donating time.

How can you help contact centre volunteers feel motivated and valued?

  • Invest time to express thanks and appreciation for the work they do
  • Have 121 interactions as often as possible with the volunteers
  • Reiterate the link back to their impact on beneficiaries

To find out how we can help you through our not-for-profit consulting services, get in touch.

Want more? 

READ: How does building quality employee experiences (EX) improve CX?

LISTEN: Non-profit challenges: Does charity transformation ever work? – PODCAST

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