Tourist – Traveler – Guide. This is the journey of the volunteer. The great failure of volunteer coordinators lies in expecting tourists to act like guides, treating guides like tourists, and ignoring the traveler all together. Its time we meet people where they’re at. Here’s how to recognize employee volunteers at each stage, and how to treat them accordingly.

Remember our article on the three stages of the volunteer? (No need to go back and review it, I’ve covered the basics for you below.) You’ve probably heard me or Chris describe the stages if you’ve ever attended one of our presentations. (Like Chris today with the Twin Cities CVC, pictured on the left!) In fact, you may be one of many who have recently asked the following question: how do we know which stage an employee volunteer is at? As a CSR manager, your job is partially to learn to recognize employee volunteers at each stage and then interact with them appropriately. Let us help you do this.

Stage 1: TOURIST

The first stage on the journey of the volunteer is one of investigation and curiosity. Like a tourist visiting a new place for the first time, a first stage volunteer is not yet sure if this experience is the right fit for them. They cannot be forced or coerced into liking it; instead, they must be given basic, experiential tasks that will allow them to look, taste, see and discover. If they’re ready, they’ll return to the space and continue through the stages. Tourists will make up about 70-80% of any group of employee volunteers.

What tourists need from you:

  • Tourists are usually not familiar with how to act at a volunteer event. To help them feel comfortable, assign them a specific task, show them how to do it, and tell them to check in with you when they’re finished. In addition, make sure they have all the supplies they need to accomplish their task.
  • The reason tourists need specific tasks at an event is because they doing a lot of work makes them feel needed, ultimately providing a sense of accomplishment. You can add to this sense of accomplishment by affirming your employee volunteers throughout the event; remind them that why it matters that they’re there.
  • Tourists often have a variety of questions. It’s important that they know who to go to with these questions. When you check in with them, make sure you point out who’s in charge. Also, assure them that questions are welcome and normal.
  • Tourists are not yet ready to make a long-term commitment to volunteer or participate in other ways. They need to be free to experience the event without a sense of obligation. Assure them that you’re glad they came, but don’t pressure them to come back.
  • Teams are built on relationships. Therefore, every good volunteer event will be highly relational. Take time to introduce 1ststage volunteers to other, more seasoned volunteers.
  • Tourists need to know that their attendance at an event mattered. Make sure to follow-up with them after an event and thank them for the attendance. Learn about their experience and provide any information they’d like, but don’t pressure them to commit to future participation.

How to recognize a tourist:

A tourist might…

  • stand around until they’re specifically asked to do something
  • prefer to talk amongst themselves rather than interact with the community being served
  • show up late and want to leave early
  • ask questions about topics you’ve already covered.
  • act very enthusiastic, but will only do exactly what they’re asked to do
  • either seem overly concerned about their safety and that of their personal belongings
  • might dress inappropriately for the event
  • seem to just want to have fun

Stage 2: Traveler

The second stage is one of meaningful discovery. Like a traveler who has begun to feel a sense of belonging to the place they’ve visited, second stage volunteers will begin to internalize their motivation for returning. As they own the experience for themselves, they will become ready to take on leadership responsibility and tasks that require increased commitment. Travelers can be hard to recognize, but they’re worth looking for. Travelers will make up about 15-20% of employee volunteers. They’re on their way to becoming advocates and leaders for the volunteer program.

What travelers need from you:

  • Travelers often know what to do, but they understand volunteering events well enough that they don’t want to get in the way. They will step up and help – they just need you to give them direct permission to do so.
  • Conversely, travelers are beginning to own the experience for themselves and connect a certain amount of emotion to what’s going on. Be prepared to respond openly and positively to criticism or difficult questions. Ask them to email you ideas for how to address the problems they have.
  • Travelers want responsibility and they’re experienced enough to handle it. Give them tasks and allow them to accomplish it in their own way, even if it’s not exactly
  • Because travelers are ready for some responsibility, try not to burn them out on menial tasks like stacking chairs. Instead, give them tasks that carry a little bit more weight like checking people in or being a project captain for a specific area.
  • If there are training events scheduled for your employee volunteers, offer these opportunities to travelers. The offer will affirm them and motivate them to further commit to volunteering.
  • Travelers really care about the volunteering they do with you. They are on their way to becoming leaders. Because of this, they tend to take a little extra effort to manage. Don’t forget, they’re worth it. Check in with them regularly and listen to what they have to say.
  • After an event, follow up with travelers and ask if they’re interested in any further opportunities or training. Let them know that you think their participation is particularly important and you’d like to see them come back.

How to recognize a traveler:

A traveler might…

  • express criticism or have strong opinions about the way things are being done
  • share examples of how certain things were done at places where they’ve volunteered in the past.
  • express criticism or have strong opinions about the way things are being done
  • be interested in leadership training
  • show up on time and regularly
  • act like they “know best” how to run an event
  • begin to tell others at the event what to do and how to do it
  • have specific questions about “why” and “how” – they are interested in results
  • genuinely want to help, but take a little more effort to manage
  • have very high expectations of you and of the event

Stage 3: GUIDE

The third stage in the journey of the volunteer is one of alignment and internalization. Like a guide who introduces friends and strangers alike to the charms of his favorite country, third stage volunteers are motivated entirely by personal, intrinsic reasons. Guides can be trusted to run the program when no other leader is around and will recruit new volunteers without being asked. Guides make up only about 10% of any group of employee volunteers and should receive the greatest percentage of time and energy from their managers.

Volunteers who demonstrate a high potential for leadership may in fact be guides. The only way to know for sure is to have a conversation with them after an event.

What guides need from you:

Once you’ve identified a guide…

  • collaborate with them when designing your volunteer events
  • give them supervisory roles that involve other volunteers
  • support them in their roles and allow them to guide tourists (see how to treat a tourists at an event)
  • Let them do the debrief
  • Offer them continued leadership roles and areas of responsibility

How to recognize a guide:

Guides will look something like this:

  • knowledgeable about the issue, cause or community you’re serving
  • numerous years of volunteer experience
  • able to share why volunteering is important to them and what they get out of it
  • often invite family, friends and colleagues to volunteer with them
  • often involved in fundraising projects
  • very reliable to help out with events
  • are comfortable helping new volunteers know what to do

Contact us to talk more about how to have an effective employee volunteer program! You can get me directly at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed