I am currently working on several projects for several clients, in which volunteers will perform most of the work effort required. And this offers some great advantages, as well as some challenges as can be expected. The benefits include cost savings for the volunteers and acquiring a sense of accomplishment and engagement in their neighborhoods. The disadvantage, however, is a lack of incentive, which is often required to put in the effort, time, and extra push to get eh job done. For example, most companies reward work with higher pay, promotions, and bonuses. These incentives, made available by a dedicated budget, can help companies incentivize their staff to work harder, for longer hours, and or other required drills to get the work done. However, these incentives are not usually available when dealing with volunteers, but there are other options.
They say that project management’s “golden rule” is to “do onto others as they would have others do onto them.” In other words, they find their own unique and personal incentives. For some people, for example, having more time off or working from home is more important than more money because they have small children, elderly parents who need them around more, and so on. Therefore, an incentive does not always have to be monetized. And this is important when dealing with volunteers since there is typically no budget available.
In our case, for example, the incentives we are outlining for our volunteers working on community projects are as follows:
- Associating their names to a high-profile community project
- Obtaining training in areas that are more to them, such as fundraising, light engineering design, and community outreach. Skills that they may want to acquire for the next job or career.
- Sense of hands-on work and accomplishment, which will benefit their families and friends
- And even though money might be in short supply, a small gift, meal, or thank you party can go a long way.
As with any project-related task, the first rule to success is, of course, having a plan, which is something that many people overlook. Some managers, whether they have a budgeted project or are working pro bono, neglect the importance of planning things out. However, and this is especially critical when managing stakeholders who are volunteers, having a detailed plan is critical, and not just a stakeholder management plan, but a risk management plan as well. Because in a volunteer situation, there is a chance that people might not show up, or their efforts might not always be up to par since the incentive and fear of being laid off or not getting a raise does not exist. Therefore, more than others, these types of projects require more stakeholder engagement and management, as well as more communication and risk analysis.
In one of my current projects, for example, the first kick-off meeting generated an attendance of over 30 people, but the second meeting only garnered nine people, and one of them was a 10-month-old baby. This means that the returning volunteers will be, and have been, the core group. However, that does not mean that the other 20+ people have fully disappeared; they will and want to help with making donations, participating at a later date, and so on. In other words, they need to be managed throughout the process, even f they do not attend meetings regularly.