I'm running a dating site and I have 3 volunteers working on the administration (approving photos, profiles, removing stalkers, etc). The problem I'm having is that they are, as volunteers, very inconsistent - one just disappeared for 3 weeks and I had to do her work.
I am starting to wonder if the volunteer model actually works, and the overhead involved with managing a team of volunteers is too much. The learning curve is quite steep, they're very excited for a few weeks but then they drift off, as alot of the work is quite repetitive.
Should I just bite the bullet and hire someone to handle the admin work ? Anybody in a similar situation ? Any ideas how to motivate volunteers and keep them from losing interest ?
thanks in advance.
Managing volunteers is one of the most difficult thing to do (some they it is impossible).
You always have to think about the reason why do they volunteer. If you can capture this reason and provide an environment in which the needs behind the reason are satisfied, you probably have no problems with a particular volunteer. On the other hand, if this is impossible, you probably will have a lot of turnover since people come for a reason and see after a while that their expectations are not met.
So if you work with volunteers, you have to turn management perspectives upside down. In an employment situation, the employee obtains wages for the work they do, which is aligned according to the business. In a volunteer situation, the organisation needs to provide the volunteer with the incentive to be willing to continue, the volunteer is in the stronger position since they do not need the organisation and can leave any time they want.
I think this is the most important aspect if you want to be successful with a volunteer model. Hence you need to ask yourself two questions. Does this model work for my situation? And secondly: Can I create an environment which can be successful in keeping the volunteers happy?
I think the fact that you have volunteers right now is great, however, do not expect a "volunteer" to work a regular schedule or put too much time on this, unless you are offering some sort of "reward" for being consistent.
If your site is growing and getting some track, then hire a temp or intern to help you where the volunteers are not.
You can approach this a couple of ways..
Either recruit enough volunteers to cope with the fact that they will vary in the time they commit, and as you appear to have found, tail off when they discover it's a thankless and somewhat tedious task.
Or maybe you can offer something tangible in return for their actions (Obviously this depends on how your site and business model works). Perhaps credits in exchange for a certain number of admin actions, maybe something similar to SO in that more of the site is opened up as they participate more, maybe a highlighted positioning for their own ad. If you want to avoid employing someone are there ways you can give them something free, but perceived as a worthwhile benefit for contributing?
I think it all boils down to the same community effect you are bringing to the table. You need to make it rewarding for them, if they don't feel 'privileged' for being able to do this then there is no emotional or social investment.
They need to feel empowered, above the rest of the 'mortals' its the reason the community moderators in forums works. Find a way they get recognition from this and you will have a far easier job in keeping them happy and working.
I completely agree with txwikinger 's answer, although depending on the dating site I can see that this community approach could work for your model.