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  • Writer's pictureMichael Walter

What volunteers think about volunteering: A guide for volunteer managers

It was through volunteering that I discovered a passion for community work. I have spent the best part of 15 years either volunteering or supporting volunteers and I hold my experiences in my early 20s with the same esteem that I hold my University qualifications. It was through volunteering that I learned communication skills, project planning skills, event management, team work, people leading, facilitation, and public speaking. It is because of these experiences that we focus on community leadership in our school leadership program “Project Santiago”.

In an earlier blog we explored what volunteer managers look for in a volunteer. In this blog I wanted to explore why people volunteer and how might community organisations attract volunteers at different points in their life?

Recently I spoke at an online webinar about my experience and perspective working with volunteers. The host wanted to have a better understanding of the types of people who volunteer so parallels could be drawn in the development of a proposal detailing the importance and value of part-time work.

To better understand why individuals volunteer I reached out to some friends and reflected on people that I have worked with over the years. To make my presentation clearer I made some rudimentary personas as a way to differentiate different types of volunteers. A persona is a great way to distill large amounts of data about an audience into a useable tool for design. I charted these personas on a matrix of skills against time:

These personas represent people with different needs and wants as well as their skill capacities. With each persona I also offer some ideas of how you might engage these people.


My friend (represented by Juliet) spoke of 3 different ways she thinks about volunteering:

  1. Volunteering for an organisation would provide her with connection to new friends and a break from her parenting duties.

  2. As an activity she could do with her entire family.

  3. Something small and local that could be integrated into their life.

Ideas to engage Juliet

A key struggle that Juliet shared was that to be able to volunteer she’d have to put her children in childcare. This was a struggle as it would mean that if she wanted to volunteer for a day she’d have to pay $110 for her kids to be looked after. She mentioned that the government had recently included volunteering as an approved activity for childcare rebates, but she would be more likely to use this for when she worked.

Perhaps a child care social enterprise could be started whereby parents could exchange volunteer work for free childcare by the NFP. This childcare could have a few paid staff but also volunteers from a partnering University. Alternatively, a NFP could encourage parents to volunteer together. Over 4 weeks four individuals could negotiate to volunteer 3 weeks and then 1 week look after all the children. The NFP could provide a room and the parents could provide the play equipment etc.


My friend (who is represented by Louise) shared with me what they enjoyed about being a night leader of a soup van program.

“What I loved about running the Soup Van team was that we had a mission that was easy to get behind, and that had some co-dependence on each other to get the job done. Unlike a traditional workplace I didn’t have qualms asking people to pitch in to do different things, because it was all about the mission of getting the food out and visiting the community, and not about hierarchy or personalities having authority. Reflecting on my day job, I can see that I wouldn’t necessarily want to be in a position of management in my current team with our more corporate mission. There was a real buzz in the group for us feeling needed or else the soup van couldn’t run on a Friday night.

In terms of wanting to stop on the soup van, it came to the recognition that the team had grown about as far as it could we me leading it, and it would do well to be handed over while in a healthy position to a new up and comer who could bring their own flair and fresh ideas to renew the group. Now as I am moving into a new chapter of life and putting roots into a new community, I can see myself wanting to volunteer next perhaps in something local, in my new community. Even better if it could be a common interest for [my husband] and I to volunteer together! Realistically it would be a lower level of commitment, maybe something monthly that would have us meeting neighbours and learning more of the local community!”

Ideas to engage Louise

In designing a volunteer opportunity for Louise an organisation might reconsider how they go about advertising. Typically volunteer roles are structured like professional roles (with lengthy position descriptions, interview processes etc.) That might be too formal a process for someone like Louise who is busy setting up her life in a new neighbourhood and is already swamped by corporate processes in her day-job. Perhaps a NFP could host a monthly town hall meeting where locals from the community could meet, and provide feedback on NFP policies, proposed works, and perhaps there could be some form of collection etc. This would give these locals a chance to meet one another on a monthly basis while providing the NFP with valuable feedback and insight. As the locals become friends with one-another they may decide that they want to volunteer in a more formal capacity with the organisation together. To save costs, this event could be a shared initiative with a number of NFPs.

Another idea could be to find someone like Louise on one of these websites:


I based Robert on a number of young people that I knew from my time leading a program that provided opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. In the program we would match these students with organisations where they would complete internships over 3 years while receiving a stipend.

Ideas to engage Robert

Volunteering is an exchange, in return for time the volunteer gives, they gain soft-skills that can be difficult to develop at school. Students like Robert are at a disadvantage as they need to use their time for caring duties, work and other factors unique to each individual. NFPs are at a disadvantage as they miss out on the skills and talents that these individuals can provide the organisation. NFPs could partner with corporations to provide a stipend to volunteer. The young person could undertake an internship at a NFP while receiving mentorship from the sponsoring corporation.

These are some programs that support young people who experience barriers to entering the workforce:

Doxa Cadetship Program:


I based Monica on a number of friends I know who blend their week with part-time/casual work and volunteering. I placed Monica in the middle of the matrix as these individuals have skills to offer and skills that they wish to gain. For example I am drawn to volunteering at a community garden as this is a new hobby and I’d love to learn the skills from someone more experienced than me (before I launch my own garden!) Below are some quotes from my friends:

“I enjoy the community and opportunity to meet people outside of my ordinary social sphere. Volunteering helps me to grow and broaden in my perspective, working in a way that I feel is meaningful and impactful.”

“I think that volunteering is kind of like a revolutionary act and if everyone volunteered a little of their time society would be a very different place.”

“Hmm it's a good question as to "why" I do it... There is definitely something about the fact that there is no one making me go to the call centre, nor any personal monetary need. It's a pure choice I make out of seeing a need and my ability to contribute. It's fulfilling in a lot of ways. I have beautiful micro interactions with people, sharing in each other for the time of the call, no matter how small. It also reminds me in a big way that there is a much larger world beyond me and my needs and keeps things in perspective. I see volunteerism as more of an investment rather than a gift. An investment in both self worth and community…”

Ideas for engaging Monica

When working with someone like Monica it’s important to recognise the energy and motivation that these individuals will bring to the organisation. Sometimes as a staff member of a NFP we can become depleted by the minimal resources and mental overwhelm. It’s important not to sour the experience of the volunteers as they will be coming to work from a place of abundance rather than lack. Also when individuals like Monica join, it is worthwhile having an informal skills appraisal meeting. So often we can ask questions that pertain to the role without realising the individual in front of us could contribute in so many other ways. For example when recruiting Monica unless you asked the right questions you would never discover that they are a brilliant facilitator or that they have years of experience as an artist. These skills could be of great benefit to other parts of your organisation.


My friend (who is represented by Alfred) shared with me what they enjoyed about leading a youth group:

“Thinking back to when we lead the local youth group; we were asked by the parish priest and we said yes.

We had always felt that something needed to be done for the youth, so when we were asked we said yes. I wouldn’t have even considered being paid for what we did. It seemed that this was over and above being paid.

It sounds a little corny, but you can’t go wrong by saying Yes to God.

So I suppose from my point of view you would need to really believe in your cause if you wanted to volunteer.

Of course I never thought of what we did as volunteering. We were all in it together and looking back, it was a privilege. You always get more than you give.

I wonder if there sometimes is a need for a bit of unselfishness involved. I’m looking back to the times I drove Mum to cards with her friends. There was always a baby in the back seat and we did it a few times a week. I never thought of it as volunteering - and it wasn’t - it was for love.

Sometimes the motives could be mixed when someone starts volunteering, and that’s okay. They might discover they gain a lot by what they do.”

Ideas for engaging Alfred

There can be a pressure in volunteer management to treat volunteers as employees. It is important to ensure that all the right processes and procedures are followed (i.e. WWCC, police checks etc.) but there is also a fine art in the way that you support or manage them. The reasons people volunteer are different for different people. When developing the processes and procedures it’s important to consider the perspective of the individuals who come to help. This is why personas can be helpful. Someone from a more professional setting might expect the program to be run similar to their corporate workplace, while someone like Alfred may see the experience in a completely different way. Therefore you should consider your communication for the various individuals who come to help you in helping the community.


Most of my experience in volunteer management was with people like Jack. I was like Jack and the quotes in this persona are definitely things I would have said at some point in my life.

Ideas for engaging Jack

When supporting someone like Jack it’s important to ensure there is the potential for the individual to develop themselves within the organisation (obviously this is important for every volunteer!) When done well you may have a highly valuable human resource who can assist with board decisions and the creation of service or even potentially someone who you could employ when the right role becomes available. When creating your volunteer roles, think about a leadership plan so that this individual can take on more responsibility as their confidence and skill sets grow. People like Jack are ambitious and are hungry for experience so the more that you can offer them, the better it will be for both you and the individual. By increasing the challenge of a task as well while maintaining good mentorship you will create the conditions for the individual to achieve a flow state in their work.

If you are interested in exploring how your organisation could get more volunteers or you would like to engage with schools please contact us to see how we could work together!

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