Project managers in commercial corporations have a different perspective in managing employees in contrast to nonprofit organizations. Corporations pay their employees and understandably expect performance for their investment. In contrast, nonprofit organizations relying on volunteers for manpower are challenged when employees disappoint them in various ways from delivering underwhelming work to complaining.

Since volunteers are not compensated, how can nonprofits motivate these workers and harness their talents? Here are 7 tips on how nonprofits can effectively mobilize volunteers.

  1. Learn to respect their time

One thing you should always keep in mind is that these people have their regular jobs, obligations and a busy schedule and they still decide to volunteer on projects. They may be tired or stressed – you can hardly know what is going on in their lives.

This is why you need to respect their time. If they came to help you, that means they want to put their skills to good use. Don’t keep them waiting unnecessarily. Don’t give false expectations of the time or effort it takes to tackle their tasks.

  1. Let them share what they are proud of

Not everyone will be equally motivated by the nonprofit’s big vision. Approach each volunteer individually and ask them which project will motivate them and will suit their skills. You will get better results this way.

There are nonprofits really passionate about their cause – like Doctors Without Borders, Environmental Defense Fund and Teach for America – that want the world to hear their message. They also make sure that each of their volunteers has an opportunity to work on aspects important to them.

  1. Learn to ask for help on specific tasks

If you approach a group of unassigned volunteers and tell them that you need undefined help, chances are that no one will respond. They are not sure what kind of assistance you need and they don’t want to do something that they have no knowledge of or passion for.

However, if you approach them with specific tasks that need to be accomplished, they are likely to respond and you’ll have the requisite assistance in no time.

  1. Promote teamwork

When you’ve recruited a group of volunteers with roughly the same skill set and leadership abilities, create teams to work together on a project. Then, you should serve as their supervisor until a suitable volunteer leader joins your organization. Empowering someone unjustifiably will lead to inefficiency and discord.

  1. Help them see how they made a difference

Your volunteers are here without any compensation. They came because they care. It’s only fair to let them know how they are making a difference. Show them examples of how your organization has improved because of their hard work.

For example, non-profit organizations like Make a Wish and Ted Talks inform their volunteers about the value of their work. They show them the real-life impact of their efforts that is truly beneficial.

  1. Listen, even to the people who complain

Be attentive to the goals and needs of each volunteer. Learn to carefully interview each applicant to accept motivated workers with positive attitudes. Every project manager knows that people who complain are hard to deal with, especially when they serve in critical areas of running a project. If problems arise, troubleshoot early on and encourage the volunteer to take a different position within your organization. In nonprofits, it’s challenging to maintain a high quality volunteer staff since at the end of the day, they are not paid and you don’t have great flexibility in who you can get.

  1. Plan everything

Planning is essential in running your nonprofit. You’ll need to develop a thought-out strategy and then carefully implement each task to reach your goals.

Wrapping up

These recommendations are only the tip of an iceberg when it comes to project management. You need to learn to be patient, communicate with even the most demanding people, and listen to what your volunteers have to say. Keep sharpening your project goals and strive to improve each day.



Brenda Berg is a professional with over 15 years of experience in business management, marketing and entrepreneurship. Visit her blog at


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