Starting blockWe’ve all experienced it.  We work really, really hard to recruit new volunteers. They seem like a great match and they show a lot of enthusiasm about joining.  But, even though they’ve agreed to join, getting them to show up for training or their volunteer shift, it’s like pulling teeth.  Can anything be done, or are folks just not able to commit any more?
The good news is that there are things you can do to solidify participation, using the science of human dynamics.

Two Things to Know About Involvement

First off, there are two things you should know about how and why people choose to participate in any activity — be it volunteering for a cause, playing on a sports team, or committing to girls night out every third Thursday of the month.
First, human involvement is propelled by social capital.
Social capital sounds complicated, but it really isn’t.  It is the network of social connections between people, and their shared values and norms of behavior, which enable and encourage mutually advantageous social cooperation.  It’s social capital that fuels our internal tanks.
Three key ingredients that build social capital are:

  1. Interconnection
  2. Shared understanding
  3. Win-win experiences

Second, human involvement is reinforced by organizational socialization.
“Organizational socialization” is the work we all do to master the attitudes, values, knowledge, and expected behaviors needed to participate as a true member of any group.   It’s basically how we learn to fit in.
During the socialization process, volunteers attempt to make sense of the organization by collecting social cues and information from a variety of sources.  When the support is helpful, the cues are easy to read, and they feel connected to the organization and the people in it, the likelihood they will become contributing members of the team increases.

Four Ways to Use Social Capital and Organizational Socialization to Deepen Commitment

So, what can you do to convert volunteer joiners to stayers?  To help newcomers negotiate the unfamiliar waters of your organization, and to encourage deeper levels of participation, here are a few support tactics that can be integrated into your volunteer orientation process.  

  • Establish Rituals
    • Rituals increase feeling of safety and reinforce connections between the values of volunteer and organization.  They can be a great way to build social capital be reinforcing the interconnectedness of the team.  Rituals don’t have to be complicated,  They can be simple things you do at the beginning of a meeting or a shift that are expected and fun.
  • Encourage Peer Relationships
    • When volunteers are connected to each other it help develop social capital, too.   Relationships also increase feelings of responsibility and obligation.  And, both formal and informal mentoring and knowledge sharing amongst volunteers helps ease the burden of socialization.  So, think about ways you can “sow the seeds” of better connections between volunteers.
  • Offer Formal Training
    • Although most of humans learn is on the job, formal training can help increase self confidence, help connect the dots, and provide a roadmap for organizational socialization.  Even if the volunteer position isn’t super technical, they still need to be oriented to how your organization does business and how to be a better ambassador for you in public.  So, help them do so by investing in training.
  • Point Out the Cost-Benefit Analysis
    • Volunteers need to know that the hassle of learning the ropes at your organization is truly worth it.  Make sure you continue to talk about how your organization is making a difference and how they fit into the bigger picture.  We tend to share this info during the recruitment process, but arguable, volunteers need to hear more about your mission and vision and your program impacts when they are on the fence about how much time and energy they will ultimately commit.

What do you do to foster volunteer commitment?  Share your ideas in the comments link.