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Volunteer Retention: 7 Strategies that Work

Volunteer Retention: 7 Strategies that Work

Volunteers are the heart and soul of nonprofits. They bring their passion, time, and skills, often juggling family, a job or career, and other commitments to serve your cause. While it’s much easier to keep a good volunteer than to find a new one, you may find yourself doing just that if you don’t focus on volunteer retention.

So, let’s take a look at the reasons behind why people volunteer (and drop out), as well as seven strategies for nonprofit volunteer retention.

Why Do People Volunteer?

At its core, people take up nonprofit volunteer work to make a difference. Understanding your supporters’ drive behind volunteering is crucial to tailoring the right volunteer retention strategies. While each individual might have their own unique reasons, common motivations include:

  • Sense of Purpose: Many people are seeking a deeper connection to life and the world around them. Volunteering often offers this profound connection, fostering a stronger volunteer connection to the community and its welfare.
  • Personal Experience: For some, there is a deeply personal reason why they want to give their time. Their volunteer efforts may be passionate because they or someone they know has experienced a direct impact from a cause.
  • Career Opportunities: Volunteering offers valuable skill training, especially for young volunteers looking to add valuable experience to their resume or keen on exploring potential career paths in the nonprofit sector.
  • Network Building: Volunteering can provide an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals, make friends, or even make professional contacts. This aspect often addresses the question of how to attract young volunteers, as younger individuals value networking opportunities.
  • To Give Back: Volunteers often have an intrinsic desire to make a difference and give back. Many nonprofit volunteers want to create positive change, especially when they have benefited from similar services or support in the past.
  • Cost-effective Contribution: Not everyone can contribute monetarily. Nonprofit volunteering provides an avenue for those who want to contribute without the financial aspect.
  • Seeking Diversity and Inclusivity: Individuals sometimes volunteer in places that actively promote diversity in volunteer selection, recognizing the strength that diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives bring to the table.

In a nutshell, people choose nonprofit volunteering to feel a personal connection to a cause, to give back, learn new skills, or build connections in their community. And the best part? The satisfaction that comes from making an impact can be addictive.

Reasons Behind Nonprofit Volunteer Drop-Outs

Reasons Behind Nonprofit Volunteer Drop-Outs

The dedication of nonprofit volunteers can wane for a variety of reasons, often rooted in misaligned expectations or unmet needs. Here are some common factors that can cause volunteers to step back from their roles.

  • Lack of Connection: Many supporters leave because they don’t feel a sense of volunteer connection to the cause or the team with whom they are working. Volunteers want to make a connection, so give them the opportunity to do that.
  • Undefined Goals: Without clear goals, it’s easy to lose sight and motivation. Set goals for volunteer programs, just like you would with paid staff.
  • Mismatched Tasks or Unrealized Potential: Being assigned tasks that don’t utilize their skills or interests leads to dissatisfaction among volunteers. If a volunteer wants to work with kids and you have them cleaning up after everyone goes home, they will likely feel that they are not doing what they want.
  • Feeling Unappreciated: This is the worst-case scenario. Make sure your volunteers are greeted warmly and thanked when they leave.

What is a Good Volunteer Retention Rate?

While it’s natural to want to keep every nonprofit volunteer on board, achieving a perfect retention rate is not possible. Life’s unpredictability might lead some of your devoted volunteers to new cities, demanding careers, or juggling manifold commitments. So, if you’re not retaining everyone, don’t panic; it’s a universal challenge.

Nationally, the benchmark for volunteer retention sits at about 65%. This suggests that for every trio of volunteers, there’s a likelihood that one might step back earlier than anticipated. Striving for a retention rate around this benchmark, or even surpassing it, should be the aim of your volunteer retention program.

Effective Nonprofit Volunteer Retention Strategies

Volunteer retention is both an art and a science rooted in understanding, appreciation, and effective communication. Here are seven strategic pointers to ensure your volunteers remain dedicated and enthused about your work.

Understand Volunteer Motivations

Understand Their Motivations

We discussed several reasons why people volunteer. Each person is different, and knowing why each volunteer joins your group can help to keep them around. By aligning their goals for volunteering with their assigned tasks, you can ensure they see the value in their contributions.

Regular feedback sessions can provide insights into individual motivations and how they evolve over time.

Provide Training Opportunities for Volunteers

Provide Training Opportunities

Remember that many people want to develop skills while volunteering. Regular nonprofit volunteer training not only boosts confidence but can foster a deeper volunteer connection to your cause.

Offer modular training sessions tailored to different skills and roles. This allows volunteers to choose areas they’re passionate about and shows that you value their time.

Utilize Volunteers' Skills

Utilize Their Skills

Recognizing the unique skills of each nonprofit volunteer can make them feel valued. When considering using volunteers instead of paid staff for certain tasks, ensure their skills match the role.

Periodic skill assessment workshops can help discover hidden talents within your volunteer base.

Provide Transparent Communication and Ask for Feedback

Provide Transparent Communication and Ask for Feedback

Your volunteers are an essential part of your team, and they must trust your leadership. Trust is built on transparency. Providing clear, honest information fosters loyalty and credibility.

Keep volunteer happy by listening to their concerns early. If volunteers do leave, call them and personally ask them if there was anyway that you could have kept them around. Addressing the “why I don’t volunteer anymore” sentiment involves understanding grievances or unmet expectations.

An anonymous feedback box or regular surveys can provide insights into areas for improvement.

Utilize CRM and Data Management to Track Volunteers

Utilize CRM and Data Management

Utilize nonprofit CRM and donor management platforms to track volunteer hours, roles, and preferences. This ensures that the connection with volunteers is not easily lost.

Segment your volunteer database by skill, availability, and interest. This allows for personalized communication and role allocation.

Connect Volunteers with Each Other

Connect Volunteers with Each Other

Many people volunteer to make connections and meet others. Fostering a community among volunteers can create a sense of belonging and ensure that they are excited to work. Host special events or create platforms where volunteers can interact with each other and paid staff, share experiences, and build friendships.

Depending on the volunteer role, you may be able to ncourage peer mentorship. Pairing newer volunteers with seasoned ones can enhance the onboarding experience and lead to greater volunteer retention.

Thank Volunteers Publicly

Thank Volunteers Publicly

Whether it’s on social media, in newsletters, or in local newspapers, public acknowledgment is a powerful retention tool for volunteers. Videos, interviews, and photos can beautifully capture their volunteer stories and the impact of their contributions, as well as being a great way to boost morale. Celebrating milestones, birthdays, or anniversaries can also go a long way in making volunteers feel appreciated.

Collaborate with local businesses for volunteer appreciation discounts or benefits. A coffee shop might offer a free coffee to your Volunteer of the Month, for instance.

Here are a few more creative ways to say thank you to your nonprofit volunteers:

  • Personalized handwritten notes.
  • Organizing annual volunteer appreciation events.
  • Featuring ‘outstanding/new/long-serving volunteers’ in monthly newsletters.
  • Hosting fun team-building outings.

Last Thoughts on Volunteer Retention

Nurturing a relationship with volunteers and keeping them happy is a continuous process. By understanding their motivations, providing training, utilizing their skills, and thanking them regularly, nonprofits can ensure volunteers keep returning, bringing their invaluable energy and passion with them.


Sarah Bender

About Sarah Bender

Originally from Surrey, UK, Sarah has worked remotely in various online fields for the last 8 years. Currently, she is focusing on writing blogs on online fundraising and special events for a UK audience. When she is not spending her days researching and writing, you can find her running around after her two highly active young sons which constitutes a serious workout program!

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