Creating the right environment for our volunteers to flourish is a bit of a recipe in itself. With several years of experience and surveying under our belt, our Community Manager Thea Soutar has collated some of the juiciest learnings about what makes up a great volunteer experience. Part 1 will dip into some top tips for creating an awesome experience, and part 2 will look at what you can do when stuff doesn’t quite go to plan. 

Before we start, we wanted to kick off with a few words of context, as volunteer engagement is typically the most rewarding but equally one of the most challenging parts of running a team. As you confront working with volunteers, keep the following in mind:

  • Volunteering is volunteering. In a best case scenario, volunteering will always be people’s third priority after work and study, not to mention family and friends. While you’re working hard to motivate your team, don’t forget how volunteering might be fitting into people’s broader worlds and respecting what they have going on elsewhere.
  • Every organisation who works with volunteers experiences challenges. Know that it’s totally normal for it to take a while to find your feet in terms of managing volunteer teams!
  • We work with Gen Y – and Gen Y moves. Expect your team to be shifting every 6 months or so and make peace with the transient nature of young volunteers. What we do is relatively unusual in the volunteering space too and it’s totally ok if it’s not going to fit everyone.

Community and friendship

What’s it about?

Your team feeling connected to each other as people and sharing the experience of being a part of YFM together. This is all about the very human stuff – doing fun, creative and productive stuff together and feeling like you’re able to achieve stuff together as a team. When the team knows each other as people, there’s far greater motivation to show up, to share, to invest and to come back again and again.

Creating solid expectations

What’s it about?

Group work is tenfold easier when everyone is on the same page. People will approach YFM with many different expectations about what it’s like, and what the commitment will be. Bringing these expectations out into the open early – and often, as it’s something that will need to be done regularly – will avoid a great deal of confusion and potential conflict and is a great way to get people motivated about how they’ll work together.

Personal growth and development

What is this?

This is all about YFM contributing back to our volunteers, particularly during a time of their lives when they’re entering new careers or thinking about where they’d like to go. By making YFM a platform for volunteers to learn and develop new skills and build confidence in their abilities, we also build their motivation to be involved with projects.

Connection to impact

What is this?

This is all about volunteers having a sense of what the point of their hard efforts are. What is the sum impact of the project they’re working on, or how has something they created had an impact on other people in their community? It’s about volunteers feeling and experiencing why the work is important in the bigger scheme of things.

Clear structure and targets

What is this?

This is about the team knowing where it’s going, what it’s doing, why it’s doing that and what success will look like. Structure makes people comfortable and safe and like they can make a decision about whether they’re in or out. Having clear targets also allows people to feel like they’ve ‘won’ when they achieved that thing, rather than constantly chasing vague something in the future.

Check out more advice on what it’s like to run a for-cause organisation? Or are you keen to become a YFM volunteer yourself now? 


Image by Alex Lee Jackson

Thea Soutar


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