Volunteer management and motivation are arguably the most challenging components of leading a team. Leaders are asking their team members to work for free and although each volunteer has their personal reasons for volunteering, keeping a team of unpaid volunteers motivated is a true art. Here are 8 tips to help with volunteer management and motivation that Paula Lawrence, Executive Director of Dress for Success, recently shared on the Leadership Looks Like Podcast.

Partner with people who have different areas of expertise

Although we, as leaders, would like to be an expert in all areas, it’s simply not possible. The burden is simply too much for both ourselves and our teams. The key to effective leadership is understanding that you aren’t the end all, be all and that it’s important to have a group of people you can reach out when you need help. Be sure that the partnerships you create are full of people who have different areas of expertise. When it comes to volunteer management, having access to various areas of expertise will provide you with the necessary knowledge to keep your team motivated.


A leader’s main job is to clear a path for their team. This means that you’ll probably spend more time preparing than actually doing and that’s ok. The more you can do research, plan ahead, and be prepared for a given situation, the more confident you will be as a leader.

Call on your troops

During the preparation process, evaluate your team and their capabilities. Plan in a way that sets them up for failure and when it comes time to call on your troop, don’t hesitate. Delegate tasks and trust that they’ll come together and make it happen. Steps taken may not be exactly what you would do, but it’s the end result that matters most.

Find people who are doing it well

Leaders spend countless hours imagining, planning and motivating teams to execute. Many leaders do this in a bubble when in reality, volunteer management is nothing new. Rather than develop in a bubble, do your research. Find other people who are doing it well and talk to them. Understand what they’re doing and pull information that will work well with you and your team. There’s no point in re-inventing a wheel that is already working.

Ask questions

Many leaders get so caught up in answering questions that they forget to ask them. Be inquisitive and curious. Ask your support team questions and don’t forget to ask your team as well. If you’re not sure what to do, the answer may be right in front of you. Ask away!

Be an example

When it comes to volunteer management, don’t discount the importance of setting an example. All eyes are on you as a leader and if a group of volunteers witnesses the passion you have for a cause, they’ll mirror that passion as well.

Define payment

When a leader employs a group of people to work for them, it’s easy to define what they get in terms of payment. It’s a paycheck. When a leader asks a team of volunteers to work for their cause, payment isn’t in the picture. Keep in mind that volunteers will stay motivated and engaged when they understand what the ‘payment’ is. Define what volunteers within your organization get in return for giving their time and make that part of your mission statement. Understanding what motivates your volunteers to stay engaged is key to the overall success of your organization.

Keep going

Volunteer management can be challenging at times, but when in doubt, keep going as a leader. If you’re passionate about a cause, the simple act of doing can be enough to keep the motivation alive.

Related: All Leaders Should Be Doing This for Free