Volunteer Retention: How to keep them coming back for more

10 March 2021

Go on too many dates but can’t make them stay? Much like online dating, attracting volunteers may not be the issue for you and your team, but keeping them around often is. 

Community spirit was ignited in millions of us as we used our newly-found time to help out our local services throughout the pandemic. The fuel for volunteering is already there, but the trick now is to keep up the momentum. 

So, you’ve got some great new volunteers, but how do you keep them motivated and inspired? Effective volunteer retention is the by-product of enjoyable, sustainable relationships with management. Whether it’s on the front-line, or virtual volunteering, the management expectations are much the same. 

Word of mouth is one of the most powerful attractors for volunteers, and an underrated marketing tool for your charity but high turnover rates can be costly in the long run, so volunteer retention is worth investing in. Here’s our top five tips to keep your volunteers hungry for more once they’re through the door. 

1. Invest in your volunteers 

The key to volunteer retention is to ensure that the benefits work both ways. Have an introductory conversation to find out what your volunteers’ goals are from their time spent, and work on building up a plan to help them meet those goals. 

Whether they have a skillset they’re looking to grow, or just want to gain new experiences, invest in your volunteers and commit to developing their skills. Investing in them will help make sure they feel their time has been well spent and leave them hungry for more. 

2. Ask for their two cents

Investing in volunteers doesn’t just benefit them, it can pay off for your organisation in unexpected ways, you never know what creative ideas they may be hiding up their sleeves.

Fresh eyes might be able to spot solutions to old problems, or think of improved ways of working. Here, volunteers can prove invaluable. Create space to regularly check in with your volunteers, make sure that they are feeling supported in their role  and take any feedback. Ask them for their two cents, and listen to what they have to say. A volunteer who feels heard is a volunteer who wants to stay.

3. Make your volunteers part of the organisation

Do your volunteers feel like they’re part of the charity? Or just like they’re there to pick up the slack? 

Look at the skills and experience that your people have and consider how they might be able to help at all different levels of the business. Only delegating the humdrum tasks to your volunteers may lead to them feeling underappreciated. 

But, it’s not just the workload that counts, the social side of volunteering is just as worthwhile. In fact, around 1 in 5 people start volunteering to meet people or make new friends. It’s important that they feel welcome whilst working with the staff. 

Making an effort to make volunteers feel like valued and integral parts of the organisation will give them a sense of belonging and a desire to keep helping out. Some suggestions for how to do this include using a software such as Slack or Microsoft teams, or even creating a Facebook group to facilitate connection and conversation between team members and existing volunteers within the organisation. You could even download a tool like Donut.io to connect employees and volunteers at random for virtual (or real) coffee catch ups.

1 in 5 people start volunteering to meet people or make new friends - NCVO Time Well Spent

4. Be clear with expectations and respect their time

Make your expectations clear to your volunteers by setting out parameters of their role. It might be a written volunteer policy, or it may take form as more casual discussions. Nonetheless, be explicit with what’s expected but remember that they are giving up their personal time to help out. 

They might not be able to commit to volunteering on a long-term, permanent basis, but make sure to appreciate the time they are able to commit to in the present. Small thank you’s go a long way, so recognising their efforts and providing both positive and constructive criticism is respectful of that commitment. Volunteers may come and go, but clear boundaries help everyone to feel satisfied. 

5. Provide them with fulfilling experiences

Lastly, remember what it’s all for. Remember why you yourself wanted to join the cause, and support  your volunteers to feel that same fulfillment that you do. 

Allowing volunteers to experience the benefits of their hard work will leave them feeling rewarded. Whether that’s meeting with those who you’re directly helping, or sharing out praise can incentivise volunteers to come aboard again in the future. And again, and again, and again. 

Don’t be sad when volunteers do move on!

While some volunteers build strong relationships with the organisations they support and continue to help out for many years, every volunteer relationship will come to an end at some point. Whether they have supported you for five years or five months, don’t take their decision to leave personally. If they are moving on to a new volunteering role, be proud that the support, training, and experience that they gained with your organisation has likely helped them develop the skills needed for their new role. Developing positive, meaningful relationships with volunteers means supporting their goals as much as those of your organisation.

More info 

If you’re curious about how Social Good Connect can pair you up with volunteers, get in touch or sign up below!

Words by Caitlin Fyffe

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