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Consequences of Good v. Bad Volunteer Experiences

Holly D Daniels | Published on 8/12/2022
At our 8.3.22 Southwest MN District Council meeting, we shared stories, successes, questions, and insights. I noticed a connection between the kind of experiences that can turn volunteers off from our organizations, or win their loyalty for life. 

"You don't need me."

One volunteer engagement leader at the meeting, Brenda, told us about a time she asked an acquaintance to volunteer. The woman shook her head and replied, "You don't need me."

Apparently she'd volunteered there once before, and that day there were too many people and nothing for her to do. She left feeling unhelpful and she resolved that she wasn't going to repeat the experience.

Brenda convinced the woman to try again, and she did! She returned to volunteer a second time and realized how much work there was for her. Brenda said she's become one of their most committed and willing volunteers. 

It's not easy to swallow but it happens -- sometimes one negative experience, maybe with an unorganized project, or too many people scheduled and not enough to do, means that person will not come back to your organization. What if that bad experience was their first foray into volunteering? They may not try again. 


  • Send a brief survey after a volunteer experience. Ask the question: "Do you feel your time was used well?"
  • Reach out to people who haven't returned after their first time volunteering and ask for feedback: "What did you like?" "What could we do better?"

"I'd like to volunteer with my family."

I bet we've all received this request or made this request at some point -- "I'd like to volunteer with my family. Do you know of opportunities like that?"

One of the questions we talked about at the District Council meeting was about how to create more volunteer opportunities for kids and families. Many organizations in Greater Minnesota are struggling to replace their older-adult volunteer force that dwindled in COVID for many reasons. Why not try to engage younger community members with kids?

We know that people are looking for chances to get their kids involved with volunteering. They want to model the value of service and give them a memorable experience together. 

When I was a volunteer coordinator, I used to ask people why they volunteered and a lot of them said, "I grew up volunteering. Now it's part of who I am."

Many organizations have age limits and restrictions for safety reasons. But our group started thinking about this and asking questions like:

"What about a special volunteer event once or twice per year, for families in your community?"

"Could we hold a fun event for our volunteers to invite their families to, to give them a glimpse of our mission?"

"Kids want to help their community too -- could we empower them to feel like helpers with one small task? Maybe making goodie bags for seniors?

"Perhaps we could partner with someone else doing something similar. Maybe the local schools? What about 4H, FFA, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts?"

People have their own unique motivations to volunteer. What if by going out of your way to meet the need some folks have to volunteer with their their children, you could increase your visibility in the community? What if you could recruit some of those parents to serve in other ways? What if you could inspire a life-long spirit of volunteerism in today's kids? Perhaps in 20 years someone will ask them why they volunteer and they'll say: "I grew up volunteering. Now it's part of who I am."