VolunteerToday.com ~~ The Electronic Gazette for Volunteerism

~ October 2001 ~
  • Keeping Morale High
  • Morale Self Diagnosis
  • Bring on the Questions

There is grief throughout the world for those lost and injured by terrorist attacks. But, there are also thanks for outpourings of love, condolence, sympathy, and encouragement from family, friends and neighbors from Sri Lanka to Sydney to Sacramento, and Sweden.

"Now let us thank the Eternal Power: convinced
That Heaven but tries our virtue by affliction.
That oft the cloud which wraps the present hour
Serves but to brighten all our future days."
John Brown 1715-1766

Keeping Morale High

There is ebb and flow in all volunteer programs. Keeping morale up is an active process and an important one. Morale impacts the work environment and is contagious. When volunteers are down it can impact the work they do. Here are some tips to help keep up the morale in your program.

Take the morale temperature. Be brave. Ask the volunteers how things are going, what is motivating them, what is making them unmotivated.
Remind volunteers of the mission. Motivated people have a goal to aim for. Keep the mission of the organization in plain view. This means doing things like putting the short version of the mission on every piece of paper a volunteer might see, in training material, or the Web site, or e-mail newsletter briefings.
Check to see people know what they are doing. Volunteers in a hospital setting were recruited with a position description that said they would be chatting with patients and reading to them. Instead they were lifting people and moving heavy equipment. Be sure you know what people are doing. Make adjustments accordingly.
Build trust. Get open expression of feelings. Give feedback, often. Send positive messages about the work being done. Be respectful of volunteers to them and to staff or clients. NEVER engage in put-downs of volunteers, no matter how much you might think they deserve it.
Build a partnership with volunteers. Reward those who take the risky step of criticizing, but who offer solutions. Others will notice that the staff and the volunteers are working together to make a better environment.
Give volunteers real power. Train volunteers so they do not need the staff to guide the work. Encourage risk taking. Give people real responsibility, not just small parts. Reward those who accept responsibility and carry it out. Never make people dependent on you.
Communicate. Provide feedback, updates, current information, and background information. Volunteers will filter out the things they do not need.
Allow opportunities for growth. Some volunteers like new challenges. A "promotion" for a volunteer is the chance to train others, lead a project, chair a committee, or sit on an advisory board. Know your volunteer well enough to know what they would like to do next or in addition to their current job.
Fight cynicism. When you hear cynical comments, address them directly and tell the person you are working to keep up morale and negative comments have the opposite effect. Say something like, "Try to keep the comments on the up-beat, it makes us all feel better."
Set an example. Avoid cynical responses, even on grumpy Mondays. Set a positive tone and the volunteers will follow.

Morale Self Diagnosis

A Quiz
 _____ 1.  Have you ever talked to the volunteers about morale?
 _____ 2.  Do you seek a free exchange of information with volunteers and staff?
 _____ 3.  Can volunteers articulate the mission of the organization?
 _____ 4.  Do you know what each volunteer is interested in doing within the organization in the future?
 _____ 5.  Are you an enthusiastic role model for volunteers?
 _____ 6. Are you empowering volunteers and involving them in decision making?
 _____ 7.  Are volunteer comments up beat and positive?


Say yes to five questions and you have good morale in your volunteer program. Three or fewer yes answers and it is time for serious self-examination.

Bring on the Questions

Volunteer managers do presentations and training. In both situations, there is a hope for questions from the audience. Here are some ideas to help bring on the questions you hope for.


Close to 200 colleges and universities offer academic programs on nonprofit and volunteer sector management. They are usually master's degree programs, but not always. American Humanics sponsors undergraduate programs, as well. If you are looking to push out the professional development window, consider taking a course at one of these colleges. A full list resides at http://pirate.shu.edu/~mirabero. Thank Roseanne Mirabella, of Seton Hall University for keeping up with this list.

Copyright 2001 by Nancy Macduff.

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