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Motivate staff and volunteers

There is a perception that staff and volunteers in charities and the like don’t need motivating because they work for a cause they believe in. Not true. Motivation is a complex subject; you are advised to be mindful of how it works to help get the best out of your people.

Serves – any organisation
Preparation –getting to know the individuals in your organisation
Cooking time – an ongoing process


  • “hygiene” factors
  • Consultation
  • Rewards
  • Costs
  • Personality assessments (optional)
  • Role/job design
  • Training and development


  1. Take stock of the “hygiene” factors; do any of these cause dissatisfactions among staff of volunteers? Consult with them if you don’t already know. Such factors include personal relationships, as well the physical working environment and conditions, organisational policies, procedures and practices. In the case of staff also consider pay, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment. Try to find ways of addressing these – called “dissatisfiers” – through consultation.
  2. Though this will address gripes, it will won’t improve motivation. To do that you also need to consider the rewards and costs your people experience in working for your organisation.
  3. In general, you can increase motivation if you can increase rewards and decrease costs. Create the circumstances for them to feel that their efforts will lead to improved performance; this improved performance will result in favourable outcomes. Such outcomes include rewards such as recognition, feeling trusted, a sense of achievement, job satisfaction. The costs that must be outweighed include factors such as difficulty in doing the job, negative stress, feeling out of control, not feeling valued.
  4. The way some of these factors are perceived will be personal to the individual concerned, so it’s important to consult, and know your people well. Some thrive on a regular pat on the back and manager-interest in their work, others regard this as unnecessary or even intrusive. It may help to ask people to do self-completed workplace related personality assessments (e.g. Myers Briggs, see http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp Alternatively, a professional could be hired to carry out the tests and run a training session. See https://www.mbtionline.com/Aboutthembti
  5. Consider role/job design, this being the way in which staff or volunteer roles are defined. Are they too vague, so that too much is expected of the person, or are they too restrictive, so the person feels too tied down and finds work too boring? Both these factors can adversely affect motivation, the trick is to design clear, challenging but realistic goals for them within their roles/jobs. Allow reasonable variety and opportunities to excel, of course within the person’s capabilities and the needs of your organisation.
  6. Finally assess training and development needs to establish what is required for your people to improve their skill levels to enhance their effectiveness and to help your organisation achieve its mission. Then arrange for the training to take place. If people feel they are growing in their job, developing as individuals, this will have a big impact on their motivation.

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