Do you sometimes feel your volunteers are more interested in chatting than getting anything done. Or you find occasionally that your thanks and praise seem to irritate some volunteers?

Successful volunteer roles need to meet the needs of your organisation, and also engage and motivate your volunteers.

How can you make roles so attractive that people want to volunteer for you? Perhaps even more importantly, how can you keep people motivated and committed once they’ve started?

Many volunteer managers have found that McClelland’s motivational needs theory helpful. McClelland was an American psychologist who identified three types of motivational need. He found that we are driven by a mixture of these needs, and that normally one or two predominate:

Need for achievement

Highly achievement-motivated people feel satisfaction from aiming for and achieving challenging but attainable goals. The sense of achievement in meeting the aim or task is usually more important than receiving praise or recognition. Achievement-motivated people do need feedback though, because it helps them to measure success and identify their next steps. When you’re developing role descriptions, you may want to consider to what extent a role would appeal to people with this motivation:

Are there tasks that you can adapt or add that would make the role more attractive to them?
Is it appropriate to appeal to this motivator in the way that you advertise the role?
Once the volunteer has started, can you find projects for them that offer achievable yet stretching goals?

Need for power

People who are motivated by the need for power want to be influential, effective and to make an impact. There is also a motivation to lead and towards personal status and prestige. A person’s need for power can be one of two types – personal and institutional. Those who need personal power want to direct others, and this need often is perceived as undesirable. People motivated by the need for institutional power (also known as social power) want to organize the efforts of others to further the goals of the organisation.

Some volunteer roles will appeal to people who are motivated predominately by the need for institutional power. For example the National Trust, like some other organisations, has introduced a voluntary volunteer manager role. Managing other volunteers on a voluntary basis appeals to people who thrive in situations which provide opportunities to influence and manage others.  Another approach could be though opportunities for volunteers to take an active role in organisational decision-making as a volunteer representative or through other consultative structures.

Need for affiliation

People with a high need for affiliation are looking for the opportunity for friendly relationships with other people, and want to feel accepted by others. People with this motivational need enjoy being part of groups, and perform best in a cooperative environment.

Affiliation-motivated people are attracted to volunteer roles that provide significant personal interaction, including interactive involvement with service users or customers e.g. befriending, serving in a shop, meet and greet, gallery guide.

How can you advertise the role to appeal to this motivator?
Can you enhance the appeal of less obviously interactive roles by incorporating more contact with colleagues or other volunteers?

What do you think?