When it comes to finding work, you hear a lot of talk about finding a fit; that is, a match for your skills, interests, and talents. But recent experience has shown me that even a great fit is nothing without feeling appreciated and valued, whether you’re a freelancer, volunteer, or employee.

Part of this is being made to feel included and welcomed. This is so simple, yet many times I have gone to an office or an event where no one even says “hello,” even in response to a greeting. And you don’t feel so hot when someone says “What? Were you talking to me?”

It’s not just with total strangers either. There are certain groups of people I’ve encountered several times over the space of years, who I have barely gotten past the hello with. I remember them, I’m 50-percent sure they recall my face, but nothing. Not even a “Hey, what’s your name again?” At a certain point, you just want to give up on trying to join the clique.

It’s a bit of chestnut, but it’s true that everyone wears an invisible sign that says, “Make me feel important.” Since so many organizations, publications, and events run on donated labour, here are some ways to make sure that volunteers return, or at least don’t feel like they wasted their time.

  1. Give them something to do. No one wants to show up intending to help out the cause, only to twiddle their thumbs. Have the materials they’ll need organized, if possible, and take a minute to give some instructions and tips.
  2. Let ‘er rip. No micromanaging – unless it’s a catastrophic mistake being made out there. I once volunteered to bartend at a party, and every time someone ordered a drink or asked me a question, the people on either side would jump in to get the order, take the money, or answer the question. It was confusing and annoying as hell.
  3. Feed them. A slice of pizza, a cup of coffee – what is that? Five bucks? Bonus points for quality food.
  4. Be nice. Make some conversation, especially if they’re new.  If they came to help out, they probably feel some sort of connection or common interest. Discover it.
  5. Give feedback, and be open to it. A few tips to help a volunteer do a better job, or better yet, positive reinforcement of a good idea. Some organizations have a formal comment card they get you to fill out, but in less formal situations, or with fewer people, just having a conversation during a quieter moment in the proceedings can be golden. Ask how things are going, too – at the Writers Festival, where I volunteered selling books at events, the bookstore managers asked about the sales, the mood, the popular books, etc. when we came to return the goods to the main store. This made me feel that we were part of the same team.
  6. Let them know what’s going on. Asking a volunteer if they would like to come to a future event or talking about other opportunities is a huge form of flattery.
  7. Duh, say, Thank you. Good job. Good night.

Really, it all comes down to a bit of politeness and consideration. Even when paid, I don’t want to work with indifferent people, the types who seem terminally deluded that they’re desirable to work with simply because of prestige or prominence. As for me, I will continue to go where I’m wanted.