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Volunteer progression of needs

Posted Sep 14 2009 9:54am
I believe that there are three main stages under which volunteers engage with a particular cause when personally affected by a condition. This condition might be disease related (i.e. cancer) or related to another cause (i.e. poverty).

This volunteer progression goes from 'healing' to 'healed' to 'helping others heal'. Under each stage are the main needs that volunteers are attempting to fulfill, which essentially outlines why they are volunteering. Understanding these different needs on an individual basis is vital to recruiting, engaging, and retaining your volunteers.

Interestingly enough, the needs for the different stages of volunteerism correlate to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs which is a theory that attempts to explain how and why people pursue certain actions.

The volunteer progression chart and Maslow's hierarchy of needs both show that everybody has different needs depending on what stage they are at. And, just like you should be listening to your donors in order to make them happier, listening to your current and potential volunteers is vital for long term engagement and success. I offer the following 4 tips to make sure you are fulfilling your volunteers needs:
  1. Listen | Individually meet with / get to know your volunteers. If you don't have time to meet them on your own, make sure to have a small committee of committed volunteers to help. You can call them your Volunteer Relationship Management Team (VRMT)
  2. Understand | Based on the progression of volunteer needs and Maslow's hierarchy, understand why each individual volunteer has engaged with you and your cause
  3. Recognize | Give appropriate recognition that is specific for each volunteer. Avoid mass thank you letters, and instead, leveraging your VRMT, thank each volunteer individually in a manner that relates to the need of that volunteer. For example, a "healing" volunteer might look for recognition that they are a part of the "family" while a "helping others heal" volunteer might want confirmation that they are a "real leader"
  4. Ask | Ask your volunteers to come back. Nothing shows that you valued a volunteer's time more than if you personally ask that volunteer to come back and help again
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