Volunteer Retention Programs need to focus on why Volunteers offer up their time to identify what may be driving them away.
Volunteers offer an incredible amount of skilled work, dedicated time, and value to the nonprofits they care about. In fact, Independent Sector recently reported that the average value of a single volunteer hour is $29.95. That’s a lot of value that nonprofits can receive pro bono from their volunteers, which is why volunteer retention needs to be a priority.
But we see a lot of nonprofits ask: Why do volunteers quit their positions? Organizations will see new volunteers leave within days or weeks, and it can hobble their ability to get the work done.
We tend to believe it’s because we haven’t thanked our volunteers enough—and volunteer appreciation events, thank-you notes, and personal calls of gratitude do go a long way.
But more often than not, volunteers quit for deeper reasons.
1. Volunteer retention suffers when volunteers don’t feel satisfied or fulfilled
Volunteers offer up their time, energy and labor because they believe in the mission. But busy work that doesn’t produce a tangible benefit or result for the cause can make volunteers feel bored, burned out, and unfulfilled by the work.
Even if the work you need to be done may feel repetitive or pointless, it’s critical for Volunteer Retention Program managers to tell volunteers why their work matters, where it will go, and what it will do. As long as volunteers have a clear purpose, they’re much more likely to enjoy what they do and continue doing it.
Let your volunteers in on the bigger picture! Don’t simply ask them to complete a task—explain how it fits into the grander scheme and how it will drive the mission forward.
2. Not enough responsibility—or too much responsibility
Putting too much on a single volunteer’s shoulders can weigh them down, meaning tasks are dropped and benchmarks go unmet, which leads to a sense of failure and lower self-esteem.
On the other side, not giving them enough to do can make them wonder why they’re bothering to volunteer at all. Perhaps these volunteers want to do bigger and more critical work, or they bring a skill to the table that’s being underutilized.
Every volunteer has a different load they can handle. It’s important to Volunteer Retention to ask during the interview what time the volunteer has to offer, how fast they can work, what specific skills they offer, and what expectations they have for their own role and responsibilities within the organization during the recruitment process.
3. Changing roles or tasks
Like anyone, volunteers get better at their jobs the longer they do them, and often take pride in that expertise and experience. Be careful if you plan to shift tasks from one volunteer to another, or hand out new responsibilities—the last thing you want to do is alienate one of your longtime volunteers! Your volunteer who’s been writing invitations for the last 5 years may want to continue doing what they’re good at, or perhaps they want to try something new. Always make sure to ask!
Offer more desirable work to volunteers who have worked with your nonprofit longest to show your appreciation for their time, dedication and passion. When handing out new tasks, gauge how much time and energy a volunteer has left to give to avoid overburdening any one individual.
It’s always hard to strike the right balance between finding the best person for the job and hurting someone’s feelings. But remember: volunteers are there purely on feeling. They aren’t being paid or compensated for anything but fulfillment and satisfaction. Coming away feeling unsatisfied, under-appreciated or unfulfilled can quickly lead to one less volunteer.
4. Time demands
When recruiting new volunteers, always make sure to get a good idea of the time they have available to give, and place them in roles where they won’t feel overworked, tired or stressed. And do ask volunteers if they expect their time constraints to change in the future—e.g. when school starts or ends, upcoming trips, holidays or special events—so you can prepare for their absence in advance.
One of the biggest reasons we see volunteers exiting their roles? Not enough time after work, personal and family obligations. Sometimes a new obligation on the volunteer’s end will conflict with scheduled meeting times, and they can no longer participate to the same degree as before.
Find ways to work around volunteer schedules when you can, such as allowing virtual attendance at meetings, or ask another volunteer to catch them up on any missed content.
And sometimes, volunteers just need a break! Make a space where your volunteers feel comfortable telling you how they feel and what their needs are, and offer them grace and understanding whenever possible to ensure a future positive relationship. Just because a volunteer has to step back now doesn’t mean they won’t return in the future, as long as they’ve had a supportive and enjoyable experience.
Learn how to attract and keep Volunteer retention rate up by valuing their time.
Volunteers can help you reach your goals and accomplish tasks that would otherwise be impossible by yourself. But how do you attract and keep volunteers? The best way to make sure your volunteers feel appreciated is by giving them feedback and showing your appreciation for their time.
- Make sure you’re clear about what you expect from volunteers. If a volunteer is not meeting deadlines, or if they are not performing their duties as expected, this can cause frustration on both sides. Communicate with the volunteer so that everyone knows where they stand.
- Thank the volunteers for their service in writing and verbally whenever possible. A simple “Thank You” goes a long way!
- Set aside time during meetings or training sessions to allow volunteers to ask questions or provide feedback on how things are going so far in order for everything to run smoothly moving forward together towards common goals/objectives being met successfully (which may include but not limited too; gathering more donations).
Including a Volunteer retention plan in your volunteer strategy is important. As a result, you’re likely to see more volunteers who stick with you longer, become more committed to the cause, get more work done and spread word of mouth about how great your organization is.