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16 Ideas for Retaining Volunteers

Volunteers are a goldmine for nonprofits. Their labors can help achieve and direct an organization’s activities and volunteers are usually a nonprofit’s best champions and fundraisers.

Unfortunately, volunteerism is on the decline. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, volunteerism peaked between 2003 and 2005, when 28.8 percent of Americans reported having volunteered the previous year. The “Volunteering in America” study conducted by AmeriCorps in 2018 put Florida’s volunteerism rate at 22.8%.

This makes retaining the volunteers an organization already has more important than ever. Below are 16 of our favorite ideas your nonprofit can use to retain volunteers.

  1. Create actionable goals and connect those goals to the mission and values of your organization. Help the volunteer understand how their tasks fit into the larger picture.
  2. Get to know your volunteers by connecting with them on social media and creating networking events just for volunteers.
  3. Ask them for feedback. You can solicit feedback both formally through surveys and informally through conversation.
  4. Have a system of rewards and recognition to honor volunteers. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be planned so it is a consistent and reliable part of your volunteer program.
  5. Avoid gossip. Nothing can turn off a volunteer faster than making them feel your organization is cliquish and unwelcoming.  Even gossip about other organizations or people outside your nonprofit can do this.
  6. Have an intentional training program for volunteers. Write it out so that everyone in the organization understands what’s expected when it comes to training volunteers. Make sure you have supporting materials for training and you’ve mapped out the logistics (i.e. who trains, when and where).
  7. Provide specific volunteer management training to those individuals who will oversee your volunteers, even if they are volunteers themselves.
  8. Send birthday cards or holiday greetings to your volunteers. Even if they don’t volunteer regularly.
  9. Provide volunteers with multiple contacts within the organization where they can direct questions when volunteering or if they need help.
  10. Create written job descriptions and “cheat sheets” for roles or tasks that are frequently done by volunteers.
  11. Feature your volunteers in your social media posts.
  12. Saying thank you is always necessary. Make sure a representative of your organization says it. Send a thank-you note. Send a thank-you email or text.
  13. Assign new volunteers a mentor. It can be an employee or a long-term volunteer who knows your organization and its culture. Make sure the mentor connects to his or her volunteer mentee to field questions and to follow up after an event or activity is completed.
  14. Track your volunteers’ hours. Be sure to share with them how many hours they’ve given to your mission over the previous quarter or year and be sure to thank them for them.
  15. In addition to noting their hours, connect the volunteer’s work to actual outcomes. Examples would be clients served, people reached, money raised, costs saved that was redirected to mission-critical activities.  Help them see the effect they’ve had.
  16. Have a screening process in place for volunteers so you can match your volunteers’ skills to your needs. You don’t want to put a volunteer in a role they will hate. Likewise, a volunteer may have a skill set that makes them uniquely suited to help your organization with a specific need.

Consider scheduling brainstorming session for your nonprofit’s leadership team to discuss volunteer retention. Use the above list to generate ideas that work for your organization. Then hone the ideas into an actionable plan your organization can implement. Volunteers are a powerful force only if your organization retains them.

If you like this article, you may like our past article on Steps to Reduce Volunteer Turnover.

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