Managing volunteers can present unique challenges

In addition to running their own businesses, some entrepreneurs also are involved in non- profit organizations. Many sit on the decision-making boards of these organizations or volunteer to chair projects that help the community.

These volunteer gigs often give entrepreneurs and others opportunities to practice their managerial skills in a different, often less-threatening environment. While there are similarities between managing people in for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations, there are also some noticeable differences.

The most obvious difference, of course, is that volunteers are not being paid. The idea of using pay as an incentive is not an option when managing volunteers as it is for managers in the business environment.

So what does motivate volunteers? Most believe in the organization and its cause. Hopefully, this intrinsic motivation — the motivation to do something that makes the volunteer feel good about doing something for the organization, is enough for most to perform well.

Tom Debbink, professor of management at Tiffin University, said the key to managing volunteers is cultivating a strong organizational identity. “That (strong organizational identity) combined with high task significance will tap into the well of intrinsic motivation. However, absent these features, people will tend to drift away from the organization.”

“Private and public expressions of gratitude also help,” Debbink added.

On the other hand, there are times when volunteers do not follow through. Sometimes, the manager in the non-profit organization has to fire a volunteer if he or she does complete a task.

These non-profit organizations depend on volunteers to accomplish their goals. If enough volunteers do not do the work, the organization has real problems.

The mismanagement of volunteers is a significant problem for non-profits. Mishandling volunteers is one of the most common sources of failure for non-profit organizations. Research shows that seven out of 10 people who volunteer do not continue to do service for the organization, severely undermining the success of the organization.

What lessons can be learned by entrepreneurs and other managers managing people in the non-profit environment? Many popular management models argue that most people are not motivated by extrinsic rewards such as money. One managerial motivation theory, Herzberg’s two-factor theory, argues that intrinsic rewards such as the work itself, recognition and feeling good about one’s self are all more important to employees than money or other extrinsic rewards.

“Probably the most important consideration after recruiting and training volunteers is to set up communication and feedback systems for clarifying role assignments and trouble-shooting procedures,” according to Bonnie Tiell, professor of sports management at Tiffin University.

Tiell has managed volunteers at numerous sporting and other types of events on the Tiffin University campus, the community and around the world. “It becomes important to maintain a supervised, but fairly autonomy-supported, work climate for volunteers to derive some of the intangible benefits for donating their time.”

Understanding those intangible rewards is critical to those managing in the non-profit environment. Managers in the non-profit world need to determine the motivations of their volunteers and work to fulfill them.

Perry Haan is professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at Tiffin University. He can be reached at (419) 618-2867.