If, throughout your life, you have ever taken part in some kind of volunteering activity, you will be aware of the many benefits that encourage millions of people to volunteer each year in the UK alone.
Here at Social Good Connect, we love to shout about the wonderful impact volunteering opportunities can have on a person’s mental and physical health, as well as the possibilities to meet new people and develop new skills.
We all know that volunteering can be a very positive and transformative experience, but this is not always the case, and volunteer retention can be a constant struggle for some not-for-profit organisations.
In this article we examine some of the main reasons why people give up on volunteering and what organisations can do to address this.
According to a 2018 study by the UK Civil Society, a staggering 59% of former volunteers reported other work commitments as the main reason they gave up volunteering and 14% of respondents claimed that it simply took up too much of their time.
People are busy, and when things get tough, they will prioritise their paid employment over volunteering. It is not surprising that a lack of time is a big barrier to involvement in volunteering.
The Time Well Spent report found that ‘Having flexibility and being asked directly are most likely to encourage those who have not volunteered recently.’ Organisations that understand their volunteers have busy schedules and offer flexible volunteering opportunities, such as evening or weekend hours, or online roles, are more likely to attract and retain volunteers of working age
Most people who volunteer do so because they have the desire to do something good and give back to a cause they believe in. They start out full of optimism and big ideas, but without good leadership or support they become dejected and uninspired.
While lack of time is one of the most cited reasons for quitting volunteer positions, the Time Well Spent report also found that ‘whether volunteers continue or not is also associated with how they felt about their experience.’
Volunteers who stated that there was a culture of respect and trust, and who felt that they belonged to the organisation were more likely to continue to volunteer than those who reported a lack of communication or structure during their role.
Good leadership is essential in ensuring volunteers enjoy their experience and want to continue working with an organisation. Volunteers, especially younger volunteers, need to feel supported or they might lack confidence in their role and become disheartened.
People’s motivations for volunteering are different than their motivations for employment and if they are not enjoying their role as a volunteer, they will simply give it up.
One of the main reasons that people do not enjoy their role is because the day-to-day reality of the position is not quite what they had expected when they signed up. A good way to avoid this problem is by being incredibly clear and precise when advertising the position. Be honest and upfront about all the responsibilities the role requires, even the slightly boring ones. It might even be a good idea to offer a trial shift, as many employers do, to see if the candidate will be the right fit for the organisation and to give them an opportunity to experience the role before committing to it.
Another barrier to volunteering is a lack of understanding about what’s out there. There is a preconception that volunteer work can be tedious and low-skilled, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. 20% of people who don’t volunteer regularly stated that they would consider getting involved ‘if they knew about what opportunities to give unpaid help were available’.
Organisations should make good use of online volunteering platforms and social media to advertise their positions and should not shy away from recruiting volunteers for more high-skilled roles.
If volunteers don’t feel that their time is being well spent or that their work is making an impact they will feel less inspired and unlikely to want to commit long term. This is why it is so important to track progress and celebrate small victories along the way.
Where possible, it is a good idea to offer greater autonomy to volunteers who will feel more useful and better appreciated if they can implement ideas with less bureaucracy. Another good idea is to offer learning opportunities and training for volunteers who want to develop new skills in their roles.
One of the most commonly known benefits of volunteering is its sociability. The opportunities to meet new people and network is one of the main reasons some people get involved. So, if a volunteer feels that they do not have any positive relationships with the people they work with, they are more likely to quit.
A way to combat this is to ensure all new volunteers are supported and integrated into the group when they start. It is a good idea to create a structured induction process for new volunteers and to keep employees and volunteers of all levels informed about any updates or changes within the organisation so that no one feels they are ‘out of the loop’.
There are so many great reasons to get involved with volunteering, but it takes good leadership and a little understanding to create loyal and happy volunteers who want to keep working for your organisation. Taking a little time to understand the motivations and needs of your volunteers will go a long way towards creating a welcoming and positive working environment that people will want to come back to.
Please get in touch if you have any queries about volunteer recruitment and retention, or if you want to learn more about what Social Good Connect can do for you.