Mattering: The Growing Volunteer Motivator

The sticky note on the side of my desk reads, “Making a difference is a way to know you matter.”At some point every day, I catch sight of this little green square of paper that shares such a profound message.

Leaders of volunteer often understand that volunteers “want to make a difference,” but rarely do we go deeper to explore what making a difference means on an individual level.


The term “mattering” was coined in 1981 (by Rosenberg and McCullough), and it refers to our perception of personal significance in the world.

Every volunteer wants to feel valued. Placing mattering front and center in our volunteer engagement strategy can be a powerful tool to drive success – on all fronts.


Of course, engagement should, first and foremost, be built around the desired outcomes for the community, as mission-fulfilment should be the primary driver. But the impact of volunteering on the volunteers themselves is growing in importance to organizations and, increasingly, funders too. Fortunately, mattering can be integrated into every aspect of a volunteer program.

  1. Recruitment: Focus communications not only on how the volunteer experience matters to beneficiaries but also to the volunteers themselves.
  2. Screening and Onboarding: When screening and onboarding volunteers, take the time to really understand and document what motivates them. Understanding their internal drivers and the skills they bring to a project may inspire additional ways that they can serve.
  3. Training: Engage volunteers in training other volunteers. Acknowledge and welcome the skills and experience that even new volunteers bring to the table – and consider how to integrate that into the training, thereby welcoming new perspectives and demonstrating that new volunteers bring with them assets that matter.
  4. Recognition: Communicate your appreciation for volunteers in large and small ways. Increasingly, volunteers value understanding the difference they are making as part of the volunteer community. While pins and parties can be nice, a simple shoutout on Instagram or a personal phone call of thanks from organizational leadership can be even more meaningful. Knowing they matter will grow the volunteers’ engagement in the short term and secure their support (perhaps as donors) in the long term.

The upshot is: mattering matters!

It lies at the very heart of moving beyond temporary transactional volunteerism to enduring transformational civic engagement, so it’s worth investing time to review at your engagement practices through the lens of mattering.

By Guest Blogger Beth Steinhorn, excerpted from the VQ Blog

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