During 2018-2019, 19.4 million people formally volunteered in the UK, and more than half of our population informally volunteered. It’s great to see that we have such a large group of people ready and willing to help – but how do charities and not-for-profit organisations entice their volunteers to help out time and again?
Retention is crucial for any organisation that utilises volunteers, especially for those who count on voluntary workers to deliver projects, raise awareness, inspire others and most of all, make a difference.
Unfortunately, many people struggle to volunteer consistently and eventually stop volunteering altogether. This can be for several reasons – statistics from NCVO show:
This year has brought many challenges to charities and other organisations across the UK because of the coronavirus pandemic. Higher demand in services combined with less funding and donations mean that volunteering is more important than ever.
With social distancing and other safety measures in place, not-for-profit organisations have had to think differently about how to use their volunteers effectively. Alternative methods such as online volunteering have become popular, as well as using skilled volunteers to help pivot in-person services to virtual support.
So, with all this in mind, how do we keep our volunteers happy and improve retention rates?
Communication is the foundation of any good relationship – and the relationships between an organisation and its volunteers are no different.
The importance of keeping in touch with your volunteers regularly to make them feel a part of the bigger picture cannot be overstated. Deliver regular updates about the organisation and share project success stories – especially when they have contributed to the cause! However, there’s little value in sharing generic, organisation-wide information; tailor the messages to your volunteers so that it truly resonates with their personal experience.
It’s also worth finding the most effective communication method. Is it by Facebook, WhatsApp, email, text, or in-person? Use the channel that suits your volunteers best.
Treat communication with your volunteers as a two-way street. As well as sharing information about the organisation, take the opportunity to catch-up with your volunteers. Ask them how they are finding their experience, and if you can do anything to make it better. Acknowledging the needs of your volunteers will help you build trust amongst your team and fuel the passion that led them to volunteer with your organisation.
And lastly, make sure your volunteers feel appreciated. A simple ‘thank you’ from the organisation is often all it takes to show your team how much you value their help.
These days, people generally lead much busier lives, which can limit the amount of time volunteers are willing to give. In 2018, a study by NVCO revealed that 40% of people who volunteered more than 12 months ago would consider volunteering again if they ‘could be more flexible about the way they gave their time, e.g., do it from home’.
Organisations must embrace flexibility and accommodate their volunteers’ schedules by allocating the right amount of work to each individual, at an appropriate time with suitable timescales. Never delegate too much work and overload your team – volunteering should never feel like a burden!
When you take on a volunteer, identify how much time they can dedicate to your organisation, and consider what type of activities are best suited to their lifestyle. For example, is remote volunteering more suitable, or can you offer a micro-volunteering opportunity?
Check-in on your volunteers regularly after they join your team to see how they are managing. This enables you to adjust your resources as necessary if there is a change in a volunteer’s circumstances.
Flexibility keeps both parties happy. Your volunteers can achieve what you ask of them, and the organisation isn’t affected if a volunteer can’t deliver the time they initially promised.
Many people are motivated to volunteer if the opportunity will help them to grow their skill set, or if it will benefit their career – they want to gain something through devoting their unpaid time to a cause.
Spend some time getting to know your new volunteers; learn what skills they already have and how you can utilise these skills within your organisation. Next, find out what they are seeking to achieve and discuss how the organisation can help them grow. Teaching your volunteers new skills will benefit the organisation too!
Infuse variety into the volunteer experience. Provide a range of activities to engage your volunteers for longer. Completing the same task day-in-day-out will start to feel monotonous, and your volunteers will begin to question what they are gaining from their experience. We recommend offering new opportunities, whether that’s allowing your volunteers to upskill others, or assigning a different set of duties.
As well as different duties, introduce your volunteers to other members of the team, allowing them to grow relationships with people they may not usually get an opportunity to meet.
Although volunteers aren’t employees, providing sufficient training is indispensable. Teaching your volunteers about your organisation will provide knowledge of the mission, a sense of culture, and a feeling of belonging. Run an induction for your new volunteers to make them feel welcome from the start – why not take your volunteer training online and organise an session via video call while coronavirus restrictions are in place!
Continuous support also contributes to a positive volunteer experience. Empowering volunteers with full support and knowledge enables them to complete their work to the best of their abilities and successfully fulfil the needs of the role. In turn, this motivates them to volunteer with you for longer and even give word of mouth recommendations about your volunteer scheme.
So, there you have it – our top tips for improving your volunteer retention rates: communication, flexibility, value, and support.
For future volunteer recruitment campaigns, be sure to create enjoyable, fun, and valuable experiences, while developing strong relationships and trust through support and communication and great creative with the type of roles you’re offering.
What steps will you take to retain your volunteers? If you’re finding volunteer retention challenging and want to know how Social Good Connect can help your organisation, give us a call or send us a message – we’d love to help!
Written by Holly Moore