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Don't Forget To "Pay" Your Volunteers

Pat Kufeldt
(1942 - 2001)
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 5, October-November 2001, pp. 113.

It's true that volunteers don't get paid in money. They wouldn't be volunteers if they did. But every person has to get a "pay off" of some kind for any work she does or she loses interest. It doesn't take a mental giant to figure out that no compensation equals no motivation. The hard part of this equation is figuring out what motivates individuals.

Since volunteers are individuals, it follows that motivation varies from person to person. Standard forms of recognition-pins, plaques, and banquets- have their place, but they are highly overrated and just don't do it for everyone. What does motivate volunteers in La Leche League and how do you find out? One way is to ask the women you work with. This would make a wonderful discussion topic at a Planning/ Evaluation Meeting. Ask questions such as, What made you volunteer to work for LLL? What jobs within LLL have you enjoyed the most? Least? What turns you on about LLL work? What turns you off? Describe the perfect reward for what you do. Describe the worst reward for what you do.

Some of the reasons women give for volunteering for LLL include: Wanting to help Wanting to give something back Skill building Gaining experience Socialization needs Working for a cause Power

Psychologists David McClelland and John Atkinson, who are often cited for their work in achievement motivation, suggest that people have three different motivational needs. You'll notice how the above reasons fit into these categories. They are:

The Affiliation Motivated Person
The Achievement Motivated Person
The Power Oriented Person

Types of Motivational Needs

As described by McClelland and Atkinson, the motivational needs of the three types of people include:

The Affiliation Motivated Person

Needs to interact with others
Is looking for friends within the organization
Likes group projects
Wants to be liked

The Achievement Motivated Person

Likes to have specific goals
Works well alone
Needs feedback
Responds well to tangible rewards

The Power Oriented Person

Needs to impact and influence others
Can work alone or in a group
Enjoys teaching others
Is a self-starter

When you have figured out what drives your Group's volunteers, you will be in a better position to appreciate them. There are many creative ways to do this. Some are listed at the conclusion of this article. A large number of the ideas involve written or verbal feedback. This can be a very strong motivator and there is an art to saying "thank you." Most effective is to be as specific as possible. "Thank you for all you do" is nice, but it is a statement that can be directed to anyone and therefore doesn't indicate any special awareness on the part of the sender. A better message might be "Thank you for the work you did on the World Walk for Breastfeeding. The many hours you spent on details really made the Walk a success. I even noticed you in the parking lot directing traffic on the day of the Walk. I call that going above and beyond the call of duty!" This communication is sure to be appreciated by the receiver. Not only was she noted for her attention to detail, but her extra efforts, things she did because they needed to be done, perhaps because someone else had not carried through, were appreciated as well.

You can never say thank you enough. One study suggests that volunteers need to be thanked at least seven times. Paying volunteers with specific, positive feedback will go a long way toward thanking them, helping them feel appreciated, and increasing their motivation to continue doing the job.

Some creative recognition ideas include:

  • Stickers, banners, and balloons
  • Candy "Roasts" (Humorous, light-hearted comments to honor a person at a social gathering)
  • Remember birthdays, anniversaries, personal times of importance
  • Keep track of length of time within LLL or within a particular job and recognize it
  • Have a volunteer of the week, month, or year award
  • Include biographies in the Group newsletter or Area Leader's Letter
  • Make a chart showing the value of the work done by volunteers in dollars
  • Create opportunities for internal and external training

For long distance:

  • Schedule phone time; mail can't take the place of the human voice
  • Include chatty news in your newsletter; mention names where appropriate
  • Write a letter to family members thanking them for sharing their volunteer's time
  • Handwrite personal notes
  • Schedule regular meetings to upgrade training, inform, socialize, and generally recharge
  • Listen to personal concerns
  • Offer expressions of affection via phone

For Affiliation Motivated People:

  • Give recognition in the presence of peers or family
  • Put her name and/or photo in newsletters
  • Use children's, spouse's, or pet's name in conversation
  • Give opportunities for socialization on the job
  • Offer jobs that give opportunities for making friends
  • Give opportunities for input on people-related issues
  • Write notes expressing thanks
  • Offer opportunities to greet and welcome new volunteers or members
  • Take time to talk to volunteers

For Achievement Motivated People:

  • Ask for input in goal-related decisions
  • Delegate responsibility and ability to set own pace
  • Encourage her to create innovative ideas to achieve goals
  • Give tangible awards that can be displayed
  • Write a newsletter article telling about a specific accomplishment (also frame it and give it to her for her home)
  • Offer jobs that give increased responsibility
  • Offer jobs with clearly stated goals
  • Offer jobs that offer an opportunity to achieve or surpass a numbered record
  • Give opportunity for advancement


Litwin, G. and R. Stringer. Motivation and Organizational Climate. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968.

McClelland, D. Comments on Professor Maslow's paper. In M. R. Jones (Ed.) Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. Lincoln, IL: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

Vineyard, S. Beyond Banquets, Plaques and Pins: Creative Ways To Recognize Volunteers. Downers Grove, IL: Heritage Ads, 1981.

"Don't Forget To 'Pay' Your Volunteers" is adapted from the August 2000 issue of Eastern Union, a newsletter for Area Administrators in the EUS. Pat Kufeldt was a Leader in Burke, Virginia, USA. Pat passed away in April 2001. She was the Director of Human Resources Enrichment (HRE) for the Eastern US Division of La Leche League International and also a Contributing Editor to LEAVEN. Deborah Wirtel edits "Managing The Group." Send columns or ideas to Deb at 4246 Robert Koch Hospital Road, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, 63129 or DebMomm at (email).

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