Most people who volunteer their time, efforts, and talents do so because they receive an emotional or functional benefit from doing so. Emotional benefits are motivators or principles about which people feel strongly, like the feeling of belonging, pride, or love. Functional benefits are requirements that a person needs or wants, like fulfilling a number of volunteer credit hours for a college course.These benefits are often a person’s incentive for volunteering. And, if the benefits do not meet expectations or diminish over time, they can be the impetus for leaving the role.

Volunteer ManagementEmotional Benefits

Some volunteers donate their time and efforts because of an innate, guiding motivator or principle. Your organization’s mission could be strongly aligned with an individual’s passion, like saving wildlife. Or, the volunteer position itself could provide the emotional benefit, like feeling valued for putting skills to use for the greater good of your community.

Emotional benefits come from a place that does not go away—a person’s values often remain the same throughout their lifetime. Because of this, if you give the volunteer a position that promotes emotional benefits, you have the opportunity to form a long-term partnership with that person.

Volunteers receive emotional benefits for many reasons.
Here are a few examples:

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Functional Benefits

While emotional benefits come from within a person, functional benefits derive from external factors. Functional benefits are often the result of fulfilling requirements, like receiving a specific type of experience for the next stage of career growth. Volunteers who give their time and efforts for functional benefits can be just as helpful and driven as those volunteering for emotional benefits. However, these reasons may make volunteers prone to shorter work terms as their benefits could expire after a certain amount of time.

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Volunteers Leave Due to Lack of Benefits

Just as people continue to volunteer due to functional or emotional benefits, many times they will leave the position if the benefits do not match their needs or no longer exist. For example, if individuals volunteer because they want to be part of a community and develop relationships, they need to be in positions that enable them to interact with people. If they become isolated during their tenure in the position, their ability to garner relationships evaporates along with their emotional benefits. Similarly, if a person volunteers because of a functional benefit like fulfilling a college credit, he or she may leave once they acquire the credit.

Regardless of whether a volunteer is driven by emotional or functional benefits, volunteer managers that shape the experience to their staff’s desires will be more successful than those who do not. As a thought-starter for volunteer management and retention strategies, Thomson recommends answering the following questions:

    • What are the expectations (theirs and ours) and how can we meet them?
    • What kind of climate or setting can we create that would prove enjoyable for a volunteer?
    • With what people might they work and are those people interesting and enjoyable?
    • Do we promote opportunities for interactions with others?
    • Do we have our own systems or do we expect the volunteers to come up with their own?
    • Do we provide the volunteers with the resources they need to do the job?

Interested in learning more? Get the Spark Volunteer Management guide, including six steps to a volunteer management strategy!

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