It was January in Kansas in 2010, and volunteers stood in a line one-hundred yards long outside the Kansas Coliseum. As one security guard said to me, “You’d think this was a rock concert!”

It wasn’t. It was volunteers who stood in line for hours waiting to package relief meals being sent to Haiti after the earthquake. In two days, over 12,000 volunteers packaged 1.25 million meals for Haiti.

I was leading an organization that, in the first six months of 2010, engaged over 120,000 volunteers from California to Connecticut to package 20 million meals for people devastated by the earthquake. One elderly gentleman, with tears streaming down his face, thanked me as he left the arena and said to me, “I’ve never done anything that significant in my entire life.”

Since I’ve worked with volunteers for over 30 years, I came up with an acronym that helps me as I engage volunteers:

V.A.L.U.E. Value. Affirmation. Length. Understanding. Exit.

V- Value

Did you know the IRS actually places a monetary value on your time volunteering? In Kansas, it is $17.85 an hour.

As volunteers scan the horizon looking for the right organization, they want the best bang for their buck (or their time). In the business world, it is referred to as ROI; Return on Investment. People want to know that their time spent has value.

Therefore, it’s critical that you communicate to them how valuable their involvement is to the success of your organization. What your organization does has to make the world a better place in which to live and it’s your job to let your volunteers know that.

A- Affirmation

Volunteers need a lot of attaboys or attagirls to keep them coming back for more. They need you to tell them that their work means something and is appreciated. Pass out compliments and gratitude as often as you can. Find simple ways to reward those who keep coming back. A $4 t-shirt will get your more PR than a $1,000 add in the newspaper.


Time is as valuable to people as their money. You will insure volunteer satisfaction and return engagement if you can set a length-of-time expectation. Whether it’s an hour, a day, a year, or five years, people like to know they have a certain window of commitment. If they want to come back for more, then that’s there choice rather than making them stay way past an agreed upon time.

U- Understanding

 Communication is the key to success with a volunteer. It’s important that they are given clear instruction about what to wear, when to show up, what door to enter, and what to look for when they arrive. Confused volunteers will turn around and leave. Come up with a list of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions). It will help a lot!

Volunteers also need clear instruction on the task that is being asked of them. If people don’t know what they are doing, how to do it, or why they are doing it, they get discouraged quickly. Furthermore, it’s imperative that you communicate to them the bigger picture of your organization and why their role is so necessary in the grand scheme of life.

E- Exit

Providing a graceful and congratulatory exit for volunteers will determine whether they come back. They will remember the last feeling they had when they leave so it’s important that when their time is up, they receive a pat on the back, congratulations for a job well done, and an invitation to return. People want to feel appreciated when they leave

Volunteers want to make the world a better place to live.  Let them know they made your world a better place, and they’ll keep coming back for more!

If you need to encourage people to volunteer, you might read my blog; An Easy Way to Add Pleasure to Your Life: Volunteer!

If you want a great volunteer event that engages people of all ages AND helps feed the hungry, please consider having an Outreach Meal Packaging Event! The photo used in this blog is of an meal packaging event in Florida.

What secrets have you learned to create success with volunteers?