Create a Culture that Engages Volunteers

Create a Culture that Engages Volunteers

One of our regularly scheduled cityCURRENT events is the “Get On Board” workshop that we host each quarter in partnership with The Assisi Foundation of Memphis, Inc. It’s a FREE lunch series that’s open to the public and designed to help those who either work for a nonprofit or would like to or are currently serving on the board of a nonprofit. Each session focuses on a different topic and features a guest speaker who shares expertise and guidance. Our latest event focused on “Growing and Maintaining Loyal Volunteer Support and Providing Impactful Experiences;” and our speaker was the founder and Executive Director of Volunteer Odyssey, Dr. Sarah Petschonek.

If you don’t already know Sarah and Volunteer Odyssey, visit Their mission is “To develop a pathway to volunteering that enriches our lives and communities.” They work on all sides – with individuals, nonprofits, schools, churches, and businesses – to make the whole process of volunteerism easy, engaging, and effective. At cityCURRENT, we partner and work with the Volunteer Odyssey team almost every week and track our volunteerism through their online platform, VolunteerCompass.

Their VolunteerCompass platform has countless volunteer opportunities that you can explore based on different variables, like your availability or interests. They have Volio, an interactive volunteer fair with videos that introduce you to the different experiences, so you’ll know what to expect and who you’ll be working with at the nonprofit. Then, they have a number of events and ways they can personalize the matching process and customize experiences for groups, as well. So, needless to say, Sarah is an expert when it comes to volunteerism.


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Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing some of her key insights and takeaways from the event. Let’s start with culture, though. As Sarah noted, creating a culture that engages volunteers starts at the top and must permeate every level. So, for example, how does your board engage and show volunteers they’re valued? How does your staff, not just your Volunteer Coordinator, interact with volunteers; and do your volunteers feel like they’re part of your team? Sarah told the story of a volunteer who had been serving a local nonprofit for many years and as she stepped into the breakroom for a cup of coffee (her only “job” perk) she was chastised by an employee who said “Coffee is for staff only.” Your goal is to create the opposite effect, the “kind” of experience that will inspire someone to serve your cause, to take leadership roles and recruit others to help, as well. By putting the emphasis on valuing your volunteers and engaging at all levels, you’ll create a culture that will attract and retain top talent to help fulfill your mission. 




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