Dear Evil HR Lady,

We're a small non-profit and we rely heavily on volunteers. How can we motivate them when we can't do the traditional things like give them paychecks or bonuses? Yes, their love of the cause is good, but it only goes so far.

--Doing Good

Dear Doing Good,

Motivating employees is hard enough to do when you can reward them with money. Motivating people who are using their free time for your cause can be extra challenging. I reached out to some non-profit organizations to find out what they do to motivate their volunteers.

Show your volunteers how they made a difference--Kars4Kids. With around 1,000 volunteers at any given time, this organization helps Jewish children reach their potential. Keeping their volunteers motivated means letting them see the results of their efforts, whether it's the smile on a hungry child's face when they receive the food package a volunteer packed, or the first book a learning disabled child reads after months of tutoring. There's no motivation as powerful as knowing that you made a difference in the world.

  • For profit tip: Let your employees see the big picture. When they know how their small piece fits into the big picture, they'll feel more motivated to succeed.

Involve the whole family--Joseph Smith Sr. Family Association. As a family association, which encourages the Smith Family descendants to value their heritage through community service, historical site preservation, and scholarships, they keep it about family: a place is made for everyone from the Grandma who writes a newsletter down to the young grandchild who hands out water to runners at their fundraising race. 

  • For profit tip: You can't have small children doing work, but you can recognize that people have families and obligations. Having an annual family picnic or participating in Take Your Children to work day can make the whole family feel positive towards your company.

Social (and social media) recognition--The Little Giraffe Foundation. This organization supports families with premature infants. They say, "Volunteers thrive off getting recognition for their good deeds. It can be powerful if you give them a kind word or write them a personal note, but it's sometimes even more powerful if you post their picture on Facebook doing what they love. A Facebook post of our volunteers packing bags or delivering books to the local hospitals always gets a ton of shares, comments, and activity."

  • For profit tip: Your company Facebook page can and should reflect your actual workforce. Stop using stock photos! Share publicly when they are doing a great job.

Walk the talk--Juvenile Diabetes Cure Alliance. General manager Phil Shaw says, "People are more likely to give their hard-earned dollars and free time to support a cause if they know it will make a real impact. Illustrate for donors and volunteers either where their dollar goes or how their effort changes the lives of those they love. If they do it for a cure, for example, ensure that it will be used for a cure."

  • For profit tip: Make sure your employees know how income is used, what projects are being supported and how the current business plan will help make their careers successful.

Use their professional skills--Lumity.  This non-profit helps other non-profits with their finance and technology needs, including training. Executive director Kara Kennedy says, "Painting a school or building a playground can be fun but volunteers feel their contributions and time is more meaningful when it is skill-based. Being able to translate their professional expertise to help a nonprofit be more efficient and effective is rewarding and not something just anyone can do. Often times it seems little to the volunteer until they see how a nonprofit wouldn't have access to those skills if they were not involved."

  • For profit tip: Do you have employees out there who are being underutilized? Find out what people are great at and make sure they have the opportunity to use those skills, even if it's not in their current job description.

National award recognition program--Voices Against Brain Cancer. Co-founder Mario Lichtenstein focuses on honoring volunteers who go above and beyond. They make sure to call these people out by name and recognize their efforts at high profile fundraising events. For example, one program awards young adults who have made an impact within their communities through volunteering and fundraising efforts with the "Youth Ambassador" award.

  • For profit tip: A mention from the big boss can mean all the difference in the world to an employee. Direct supervisors can reward people, of course, but for top performers, have the highest level person possibly talk about their successes.

Develop a community of volunteers--Met Council. This organization feeds and clothes the homeless and works to strengthen families in the NYC area. They recognize that different volunteers have different interests, so they target volunteers who have similar life statuses and then put them together, allowing friendships to develop, which strengthens their bonds and allows increased good to come about.

  • For profit tip: Start a few social groups--and keep them purely social, not mandatory--and see if you can help develop a camaraderie among your employees.