Stories from the Midland Area Community Foundation

Put more focus on volunteer retention than recruitment

January 30th, 2017

By Katie Trotter
Community Advancement Network Consultant

Throughout my career in the non-profit sector, I have often been asked to ‘find volunteers’. We have a need, we find the people to help, and then the cycle begins again. I firmly believe that we wouldn’t need to spend so much time on Volunteer Recruitment strategies if we took a look at how to appropriately care for the volunteers we have.

When working with organizations, there seems to a common belief that retention plans have to be costly or require a lot of time to be effective. In reality, retaining volunteers doesn’t have to break your budget and takes a lot less time than constantly being in a state of recruitment. Below are 5 Tips to Retaining Volunteers.

  1. Keep it Simple. Too often, volunteer Retention Plans are built around idealistic concepts. While you’re looking at those cute Pinterest-Inspired volunteer recognition crafts – don’t lose sight of what that will require. Do you really want to spend your Saturday night battling with a glue gun and tying ribbons around bags of candy? When developing a Retention Plan, be realistic about your staff and budget resources.
  2. Focus on the Relationships. When retaining volunteers, it’s important to demonstrate that you value the people donating their time. Talk to volunteers when you see them in the office. If they work off-site, use your calendar reminders to give them a call quarterly. Make sure you regularly have a way to check-in and say thank you.
  3. Onboarding Volunteers: All About Who? When volunteers first begin working with you, it’s a great opportunity to gather valuable retention information. Why are they volunteering? How do they prefer to be recognized? What do they hope to get from their experience? When is their birthday (don’t forget to use your calendar reminders!)? A cookie-cutter retention program doesn’t work when you have volunteers that feel appreciated and motivated by different things.
  4. When in Doubt, ASK! The onboarding process isn’t the only time to ask a volunteer why they are volunteering and what they hope to get from their experience. Regularly ask how things are going and see if your volunteers are still finding their experience rewarding. Do they need anything? More training? Even when a volunteer decides to be done, take some time to ask about the experience. What could be improved for future volunteers? Would they recommend volunteering at your site to other people?
  5. Create the Culture. Despite having a well-developed Retention Plan, in my first role as a Volunteer Coordinator I began seeing a significant decrease in our retention for kid’s area volunteers. As I was walking through the program area one day, I heard two staff talking about how much they disliked the volunteers that helped because they were ’just there to replace staff’.” It doesn’t matter how well you do in welcoming a new volunteer if the staff in your organization don’t first understand and appreciate the value of volunteers.

Begin focusing on retention in small ways. Set aside 30 minutes a week to check in with a few of your volunteers and educate your staff on the critical role volunteers play in your organization. Retaining volunteers, despite popular belief, doesn’t have to be an overwhelming concept. It just requires us to be intentional.

“Brains, like hearts, go where they are appreciated.”
~ Robert McNamara, former president Ford Motor Company