Creating a Process for Retaining Non-Profit Volunteers

When you find a good non-profit volunteer you make it a goal to hang onto them for the long term but, in the chaos of planning and executing an event, planners often miss noticing the best people.

It’s a scenario that not only keeps you from utilizing their talents again, it can also cost you money.

Investing in retaining your best, most dedicated volunteers is a sound financial decision that will keep recruiting and training costs down and give you the security of knowing your guests will have knowledgeable, experienced people to help them navigate the event’s activities.

Creating a process that will engage volunteers and keep them an enthusiastic member of your team year after year starts long before the event. Develop a twelve month volunteer strategy you can integrate into your larger event that focuses on these key areas.

1. Communication before, during, and after the event

It is a common practice to send out mass emails with event details to an entire database of attendees, and then follow-up with more specific, targeted emails to the volunteers. This could cause important details to be overlooked or too many unnecessary emails in their mailbox. Being a good communicator means addressing each specified group with information that pertains to their experience.

The volunteer emails should contain information focused on what they’ll be experiencing, with different teams receiving their own emails when it’s time to get down the specific details. Be careful not to overload them with unnecessary email drops if they are also included on the larger attendee email list. Instead, package the “need-to-know” information into two or three emails.

2. Understand their motives

The “why” of volunteering is as important as the “when,” “where,” and “how.” Whether you do it formally or informally, prior to the event or after through a survey, make an effort to find out why your volunteers chose to commit their time and energy to your organization. Doing this will put you on the path to providing an experience that will be meaningful and they’ll be more inclined to want to participate in again.

3. Provide volunteer events

Once you understand their motivations for helping at your event you can create events just for them. Show your appreciation with a volunteer cocktail hour after the event closes, recognize them at an appreciation dinner, or offer a tour to a place where your organization is making an impact. It’s as important to acknowledge their contributions as it is your donors so they’ll see you understand just how important they are to the success of your work.

4. Reserve some funding for your volunteers

Volunteer training and recruiting costs may seem like areas where budgeting can be tightened, but keep in mind that good volunteers don’t just “happen.” Sure, you can probably streamline the training process but making sure your volunteers are confident in their jobs can be the tipping point on their decision on whether or not to continue their engagement with your nonprofit.

Poor training also affects your donors. Poorly trained volunteers mean longer lines, incorrect information, and frustrated guests who lose their trust in your nonprofit’s ability to do the work.

Decreasing your recruiting budget can also present problems later. When you don’t invest in effective recruiting programs you could start to see the numbers of volunteers drop off. Instead, make sure you are putting your money into programs that will really make an impact on your recruitment numbers. Look at incentive programs, like special opportunities for college-aged volunteers and networking events for people who are interested in meeting the people doing the work.

 Interested in learning more ways to make your volunteers’ experience better? Check out Greater Giving’s webinar, “Managing Event Volunteers” with Perry Consulting, LLC’s Nicole Bennett in which she goes into great detail on how you can create a meaningful experience for your volunteer team.

5. Raise their profile

Along with the ability to support a nonprofit that is important to them, volunteers may also be looking to gain exposure into a new area of business or personal opportunity. Provide that benefit by giving the exposure they deserve for being an active member of your community. Do this by introducing them during your program, offering special recognition rewards, such as scholarships, or acknowledge them in a newsletter, blog post, or on social media.

6. Provide metrics

Provide undeniable proof that your volunteers’ participation is imperative to the success of your nonprofit. These numbers can easily be found in the data that comes out of the event’s final numbers. Provide the donor-to-volunteer ratios, how much funding specific event activities raised, and other numbers that shed light on the costs and how much volunteers help to keep costs low so the money can go to the work.

7. Reward quality of volunteer work

People try harder when they have tangible proof their work is valued. To make sure your best volunteers know they are a valuable asset reward them with a gift of appreciation. Offer something from the event or a special gift they can enjoy later. Tailor the gifts to the level of involvement they have with the organization. If they are eager to learn new skills or become more deeply involved in the work, you could set up programs to support their goals.

8. Reward returning volunteers

Commitment means so much in the world of charitable work and rewarding those that have supported your organization over the long term is a great way to show just how much you appreciate their commitment. Shine the light on those lifelong volunteers with special recognition at the event and after with a special mention or write up in newsletters or your blog, then share it on social media. There’s a good chance they’ll want to share the news with their friends and family who may not be aware of the importance of your mission.

9. Get Their Input: Surveys

Getting to know your volunteers will help you understand how you can serve them better, which, in turn, leads to a deeper commitment from them. Create a quick survey that includes questions about what their experience at your event left them feeling about your nonprofit. Ask probing questions and provide spaces where they can give you more details. You could even ask whether they felt their talents were used properly, then follow up with a question about where they feel they would be better able to help next year.

10. Make it a fun experience

You’ve worked long and hard to create an enjoyable experience for your guests and your volunteer team will want to get in on the fun, too. Come up with ways to unite your volunteer team with group events prior to the event (this is a good way to introduce them to each other, too). Provide treats and drinks throughout the event to keep them refreshed and ready to go and check in with them regularly to see if they are happy and have everything they need.

Creating a volunteer friendly environment is the best way to keep your best volunteers coming back year after year. Your efforts to make them feel welcome, valued, and appreciated will go a long way in making sure the good ones don’t get away!

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