Volunteers are invaluable to any nonprofit organization. From helping with administrative tasks to spreading the word about the cause, they are very much the backbone of non-profits.
In fact, according to Statistics Canada, “The economic value of volunteering would add an extra $41.8 billion to economic activity in 2013. This would have represented 22.3% of the non-profit sector’s GDP in that year.” It is unfortunate that the most recent information is from studies done in 2013, but it is still a wonderful example of how valuable volunteering is.
However, Charity Village stated it best when it came to the 2013 findings, “The bottom line: Giving and volunteering are up; total number of givers and volunteers are down.”
This shows that organizations are usually so consumed by coming up with ways to attract volunteers that they don’t focus enough on how to retain them. Here are 10 of the best techniques for volunteer retention.
1. Track Volunteer Data
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana
These words, which were also paraphrased by Winston Churchill, are relevant to many aspects of society. This includes any non-profit organization’s relationships with their volunteers.
Keeping track of volunteer data is important and there are many benefits of doing so. Such as showing funders the needs of the projects, past successes, and even the simple fact that you are organized and understand how important your volunteers are.
Most of all, if you keep track of information such as the day each volunteer started, their total amount of logged hours, and the date they resigned, you will be provided with a lot of insight. If you understand why your past volunteers have left, you can focus on fixing the issues so that future volunteers don’t leave for the same reasons. Sometimes things are out of your control, such as a volunteer moving or an illness in the family. However, if you see a pattern of volunteers leaving, then collecting data will only help you understand why.
(A volunteer management tool can make this easier for you to do)!
2. Make a Good First Impression
While this may sound like an old cliché, it needs to be mentioned. If a volunteer comes in for the first day of volunteering and is met with a less than warm welcome, they may not want to come back.
Make it clear to them that you are thrilled to have them on board. Tell them the history of the non-profit and the impact they will have by volunteering.
Don’t leave them out of the conversation; ask them questions about themselves! How did they hear about you? What would they like to get out of this experience? Make them feel included right away.
Remain professional and knowledgeable, but also show your excitement! Your energy will transfer to them and they will know their time volunteering will be enjoyable.
3. Assign the Right Task to the Right Person
If you make a bad match-up between a volunteer and a task, the volunteer won’t want to continue doing the work and will therefore probably contemplate leaving.
Many non-profits give volunteers a questionnaire before they join the team. This is a good way of finding out their strengths, passions and what they are interested in the most. Use this information to ensure that each person is assigned the tasks they will enjoy the most.
4. Set Them Up for Success
This tip is quite simple. By providing on-going training and resources (make sure your budget allows for this), your volunteers will have what they need to be successful. Provide them with the proper tools to achieve their tasks and show them that you are in-tune with their needs!
5. Make them Part of the Team
It’s hard to be new, no matter what the situation is. It can be intimidating when other volunteers have been a part of the organization for so long and know the ins and outs. Don’t let new volunteers feel like they are any less important just because they are the newest members.
Ask them for their opinions and let their voices be heard. If they know you appreciate what they have to say then they will gain confidence in the fact that that are not “just another volunteer” but one that is valued.
Continue to do this for every volunteer, no matter how long they have been with the organization. It will show your never ending interest in them and that you appreciate any feedback they give.
6. Be Accessible
If ever a volunteer has an issue, such as having trouble completing a task for example, they need to be able to speak to you or a mentor about it as soon as possible. Make sure they have your various forms of contact information, or have a private page for volunteers on your website for them to access and ask questions.
For new volunteers, assign them a “shadow” (a long-time volunteer), until they learn the ropes a bit more. Knowing they always have a support system is crucial, especially in the beginning.
7. Recognition & Appreciation
It is normal for anyone to want to feel appreciated for their hard work. This can be done in several ways:
• Milestone Recognition
• Reward Program
• Birthday Wishes or Thank You’s (Verbally/Cards)
• Volunteer of the Month Program
• Feature Volunteers on the Website
• Host an Event to celebrate Volunteers
• Attempt Helping with Career Advancement
• Show the Impact they’ve had on the Organization
and many more!
8. Small Gestures
Even the smallest gesture shows volunteers that you are thinking of them and that they are important.
If your non-profit has items such as mugs, caps, bags or t-shirts and sweatshirts, provide them to your volunteers for free! Not only will they wear the shirts with pride, but it will also promote your organization. It’s free publicity.
9. Provide Growth Opportunities
Just like at any job, if you feel like there is no way to work your way up the ladder, motivation can fall short.
When you believe a volunteer is ready to take on new tasks, encourage the growth it takes to manage more responsibilities. They will learn new skills, and feel proud to have been trusted to do even more.
10. End on a High Note
There will come a time when volunteers will simply have to stop contributing to the cause. Show them how much you appreciate their time, effort and dedication. Whether it’s with a small keepsake or another gift- make sure they are recognized.
They will leave the organization knowing they were indispensable. A happy volunteer can only say good things about the non-profit and will most likely refer others! It’s a win-win for everyone.
Overall, be mindful of your volunteers, keep track of what has worked for each member in the past, and work hard to show them that their hard work is crucial to the organization. Kindness, appreciation and recognition can go a long way.