Understanding and Motivating Volunteers

By Jerry V. Teplitz

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MAY 2005 - When involved in a nonprofit organization, board members, committee chairs, and volunteers have individual behavioral styles that differ from their other work environments. To form more effective relationships, nonprofit leaders should adapt their behavioral style to complement their volunteers.

In the 1930s, William Marston developed a concept, later elaborated upon by John Grier, that divides people into four basic personality types: Dominance (D); Influencing (I); Steadiness (S); and Conscientiousness (C). The key to relating with a volunteer more successfully is to discover your own style, identify the volunteer’s style, and adapt an approach that fits the volunteer’s style.

Identifying Your Style

Determining one’s personality style requires answering several questions. Think about each response in the context of relating to others.

Question: Is your relationship style more active and outgoing or more reserved? If you answered active and outgoing, your style is either Dominance or Influencing. To find out more specifically what your style is, select one of the following: Are you more concerned with directing others, or with relating to others? If you answered relating, then your style is Influencing. If you answered directing, your style is Dominance.

If your answer to the first question was reserved, your style is either Steadiness or Conscientiousness. To learn more specifically what your style is, select one of the following: Are you more concerned with being accepting of others, or assessing or judging of others? If you answered accepting, your style is Steadiness. If you answered assessing or judging, your style is Conscientiousness.

Characteristics of the Styles

Dominant (D) individuals like getting immediate results, causing action, accepting challenges, and making quick decisions to solve problems. Influencing (I) individuals are verbal and enthusiastic, and enjoy contacting and entertaining people while making a favorable impression. Steady (S) individuals are loyal, patient, and good listeners, and like staying in one place while concentrating on the task at hand. Conscientious (C) individuals prefer following standards and procedures, concentrating on details, and working under controlled circumstances.

Volunteers’ Styles

A Dominant volunteer is highly interested in being involved in new, innovative projects. To convince her, get right to the bottom line and don’t waste time with lots of facts and figures. An Influencing volunteer is the friendly, gregarious type who enjoys talking and socializing. She’s great at convincing others, loves new, innovative projects, and isn’t interested in details. A Steady volunteer may be shy but wants to make friends. She is slow to make changes, likes the traditional, and needs to feel she can trust you. To earn her trust and friendship, ask about family and hobbies. A Conscientious volunteer may be suspicious of a nonprofit’s executives. She can become solidly faithful once trust has been established. She values solid background information on projects.

Blending Styles

Nonprofit executives can become more effective by blending their relationship style with that of their volunteers.

For a D executive—

  • working with a D volunteer: Be yourself. One D communicates well with another.
  • working with an I volunteer: Be friendly and not overly businesslike.
  • working with an S volunteer: Slow down, give him assurances and a chance to digest facts.
  • working with a C volunteer: Present plenty of proof and facts, and answer all questions.

For an I executive—

  • working with a D volunteer: Don’t make small talk or waste time. Stay businesslike.
  • working with an I volunteer: Just ask for their agreement.
  • working with an S volunteer: Earn their trust before becoming too friendly. Stick to facts and figures. Talk about your families.
  • working with a C volunteer: He’s not interested in story-telling or socializing. Focus on facts, figures, and proof.

For an S executive—

  • working with a D volunteer: Assert confidence, answer strongly, and hold your ground.
  • working with an I volunteer: You should get along well.
  • working with an S volunteer: He’ll probably require assurances, so be confident.
  • working with a C volunteer: Confidently answer all questions and firmly present specific facts and figures.

For a C executive—

  • working with a D volunteer: Focus on main points and don’t overload him with facts and figures.
  • working with an I volunteer: Hit the high points, being as friendly as possible.
  • working with an S volunteer: Don't talk too fast. Give him time to digest facts.
  • working with a C volunteer: You’ll see eye to eye from the start.

Jerry V. Teplitz, JD, PhD, is author of the books Managing Your Stress: How To Relax and Enjoy; Switched-On Living; and Brain Gym for Business. He can be reached at 800-777-3529 or www.




















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