Managing Staff and Volunteers


Once you have people to work with, whether they are paid or are volunteers, you are responsible for keeping them engaged. An engaged worker is someone who is doing their best for the project and the people in the project. Remember that people are engaged by different things.

Some people are energized by working independently and others by working in teams. When you are meeting with volunteers or staff, ask them what kind of role they would like to take on and how much time they want to commit. This can help you know what tasks can be covered by current volunteers and where you have gaps. Interestingly, while it is common practice in volunteer management to provide regular supervision and communication with volunteers, that is associated with lower levels of retention. The low retention may not be due to the communication or supervision, but the way they are supervised and communicated with. If a volunteer begins to feel they are not trusted or someone is always watching them, it greatly reduces their desire to continue volunteering.


Surprisingly, conflict with project organizers and volunteers is common. Behaviour that managers would not ignore in employees is often ignored when the worker is a volunteer. A volunteer is part of your project to help in the best way they can. Sometimes, they are not helping. It is important to have clear expectations and roles for anyone working on the project. If a volunteer is not performing to your needs, you’ll need to have a conversation. There are a few things to consider when dealing with conflict with volunteers:

  • Discuss the behaviour and what you would like to see changed
  • Is there a different role where this person could be of better use?
  • Is there someone on your team who could guide/mentor this person?
  • Is there another organization or project you could recommend to the individual?
  • Is there something else going on in their life?


A large part of working with staff and volunteers is remembering to show ap- preciation and recognition for their efforts. While larger organizations have budgets for volunteer appreciation parties, this may not be the case for smaller scale projects. People are drawn to volunteering because of the way it feels and because they want to make a difference or gain experience. It is important to draw attention and compliment the work each volunteer does, even if it’s a small thing. Other simple and affordable ways of celebrating staff and volunteers is:

  • Potluck!
  • Providing volunteers something physical that shows they are a volunteer, like a pin, a shirt or a simple fabric scarf
  • Small pre-event or post-event gathering (order pizza or do veggies and dip)
  • Cards with handwritten messages
  • Written referrals If the project you were leading helped your volunteers gain valuable skills, you want to encourage them to stay and share those new skills by showing them they are valued and part of the team.
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