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How To Pay Volunteers When You Have No Money

The latest findings regarding volunteerism numbers in Singapore were compiled and released by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) last year. Drawing from the survey, it is remarkable that volunteerism rose from 16.9 percent in 2008 to 23.3 percent in 2010. Furthermore, total volunteer hours doubled from 45 million hours to 89 million hours.

This was the first time since this survey was initiated in 2000 that our volunteerism rate crossed the 20 percent mark. Now, one out of five Singaporeans is an active volunteer. This is indeed good news for all, so if you started your volunteering journey in the past year, thank you – and give yourself a big pat on the back.

It seems that with economic progress came an increase in volunteerism and philanthropic acts as well. Perhaps we Singaporeans are not so practical and materialistic after all. However, although volunteer organisations may find recruitment easier with greater volunteer numbers, more effort is still needed from volunteer leaders to retain volunteers.

How to pay volunteers when you don’t have any money

Generally speaking, volunteerism is a social phenomenon that involves people from all walks of life. People rally together to offer their service, effort and time for a cause. Volunteering is largely an altruistic activity where volunteers do not receive any form of monetary reward. It is commendable for someone to serve as a volunteer and it is even more encouraging for someone to lead and guide new volunteers as they learn the ropes.

Volunteer work can be a balancing act. Very often, non-profit organisations face uncertain volunteer numbers and this leads to manpower shortages for the most important of events and activities. Managing volunteer teams is a frequent challenge as leaders constantly seek to reduce the attrition rate.

So how can we, as volunteer leaders, retain as many volunteers as possible?

The first answer to this question is to understand the deep reasons why someone joins your organisation as a volunteer. By gaining an awareness of people’s ‘motives’, volunteer leaders are then able to match them with specific jobs or projects that best meet their intangible needs. Volunteers are not paid a salary, but by meeting their subtle intentions, we are, in effect, ‘remunerating’ them.

People volunteer for a variety of reasons. They may have a strong belief in your organisation’s cause, or they may simply want to pass the time. Sometimes if the volunteer is a student, they may simply be fulfilling Community Involvement Project (CIP) hours. A person may see their friends and family volunteering and therefore decide to join in. Or a person may volunteer in order to network and pass out their business cards.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but, by and large, these are the reasons behind volunteerism. Sometimes we must forgo our idealistic notions and reframe our perceptions of volunteers, because, ultimately, we need them more than they need us.

So, for example, upon reading an application, if you learn that a particular volunteer joined a charity drive due to peer influence, would you place him or her in a job that requires the person to be away from his or her friends? In the same vein, assigning someone a task that is a tad routine may not inspire him or her if they are passionate about a cause and prefer to contribute in more meaningful ways. Every volunteer is a unique individual. Truth be told, each volunteer requires a different form of “currency” in order to be intangibly rewarded. But how can we identify their needs?

Finding the right currency to pay your volunteers

First of all, a thorough interview with probing questions for every single new volunteer would be both inefficient and ineffective, because this takes up too much time and not everyone would be absolutely honest about their intentions. It is only through interaction with these volunteers that you can gain insight.

For instance, when I was training volunteer leaders for the Singapore Youth Olympics, there were times when trainees would present me with their business cards at the end of the session. Often the organisations they represented were insurance firms or real-estate agencies. We can guess their intention for volunteering. Watch for behaviour like this that can tell you a lot about your volunteers.

Finally, apart from understanding what makes our volunteers tick, we need to see ourselves as ambassadors for our volunteer organisations. The very actions that we display towards our volunteers can make them appreciate or loathe the whole organisation.

By creating a welcoming atmosphere for new volunteers, seeking their opinions and input in various decision-making processes, formally recognising their contributions or simply greeting them by name, it’s these seemingly little things that make a big difference in volunteer management and retention.

So let us embrace the influx of (hopefully) even more volunteers in 2012 and let us manage them well, so that in good times or bad, volunteerism will remain a staple in our local lifestyles.

Article by Andy Pan, the Director of Training at Right Impact and a core volunteer member of Project Happy Feet

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