Top 5 Ways to Motivate Volunteers: Tips from Ukraine

Application deadline: 
February 10, 2023

Volunteer coordinator with the volunteer-powered media project Ukraїner shares her advice for inspiring people who donate their time and energy.

Ukraine is now known the world over as a nation of volunteers, where seemingly everyone is enlisted in the fight against Russia’s full-scale invasion in one way or another — if not in the armed forces, then in mutual aid networks, teams helping displaced people, and groups championing the Ukraine cause to global audiences.

Such is the case with our partner organisation Ukraїner, a media project and NGO made possible by contributions from over 600 volunteer writers, photographers, video makers, producers, editors, project managers, translators etc. Launched in 2016, Ukraїner publishes content in 12 languages with the aim of introducing the world to the unique culture and history of Ukraine through the stories of its people. This mission took on an urgent significance following Russia’s full-scale invasion nearly one year ago, a central pretext of which was Russia’s denial of Ukrainian identity.

Like many civic projects, Ukraїner is propelled by people willing to donate their time and skills to something they care about. During a recent visit to Prague, Ukraїner volunteer coordinator Sofia Anzheliuk shared her top tips for working with volunteers.

Ukraїner Volunteer Coordinator Sofia Anzheliuk leads a group of volunteers at a retreat in Bucha, Ukraine in August 2022.

5. Seize the moment

Whenever there is any kind of crisis, be it a natural disaster, a police crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, a war, etc… there will be a surge of people looking for ways to help. “You may even be overwhelmed with requests from volunteers in moments of crisis”, says Sofia “But it would be a mistake not to respond to every single one and find a way they can contribute”. Sofia says these moments of crisis are a chance for organisations to connect with people from different parts of society who likely wouldn’t have been spurred to volunteer under normal circumstances, but once they have experienced volunteering, they’ll stay committed. The next step is to keep them engaged once the crisis stabilises.

4. Find Their ‘Why’

Everyone wants to get something out of volunteering. Even if their motivation is very altruistic, they still want that good feeling that comes with knowing they’ve helped. "To be honest, one of my first incentives to volunteer was free entry to the concerts I was working on, so no judgement!” Sofia says, explaining that motivations to volunteer can also include the desire to learn a new skill, boredom, or just wanting to make new friends.

3. Build a Community

It’s human nature—no matter how independent we think we are, everyone wants to feel they are part of a group. Belonging to a community is part of everyone’s motivation to volunteer. Sofia recommends creating opportunities and spaces for your volunteers to connect outside of their volunteer activities, where they can relax, socialise, and find other interests they have in common. In some ways, community is more straightforward in the Ukrainian context: “We have to volunteer and we have to be united for our survival”, Sofia says, but adds that communities can be formed around any strongly held set of values.

2. Learn to Recognise Burnout and Prevent It

“The biggest problem with burnout is that you don’t notice it until it’s too late” Sofia says. Volunteers experiencing burnout usually don’t complain. But if you’re watching, you can see them become less and less enthusiastic, more reluctant to take on additional tasks, and start to quietly fade away. How can this be prevented? Sofia says organisations have to consistently show their gratitude. It doesn’t have to be in the form of an elaborate volunteer appreciation ceremony or prize. It can be as simple as just remembering to say “thank you”. She also recommends regularly checking in with volunteers about how they like their tasks. If what your organisation needs from them and what they want to do don’t match, try to make a deal with them “Do this for us and we’ll let you try your hand at X. It can be a negotiation”.

1. Remember That Volunteering Means Freedom

Outside of professional volunteering by medics, pro-bono legal representatives and other areas where expert skills are required, volunteering is a way to try something completely new, something you wouldn't get to do at your regular job, and if you don’t like it, you can easily move on to something else. “Volunteers should be reminded that volunteering means freedom”, says Sofia. “They are here because they want to be here—no one if forcing them—so they are free to make what they want of it”.

--Emily Thompson

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