Steps nonprofits can take to retain volunteers

It is important for a nonprofit organization to retain its volunteers
Date Published
04/09/2015

Most nonprofit organizations depend on volunteers. While it is important to enlist new volunteers on a recurring basis, it is also essential for managers to retain current participants. The Corporation for National and Community Services found that between 2011 to 2013, 1 in 3 volunteers who participated in a nonprofit did not return the next year. There are strategies that nonprofits can utilize to increase volunteer retention.

Use a screening process
Any person willing to volunteer their time to an organization may seem like a windfall, but not every applicant may be right for the position a nonprofit is trying to fill. People volunteer for a variety of reasons. Some are looking to give back to their community, some are looking to meet people and make friends and others are pledging their support because they believe in the cause. It is a good practice for nonprofit recruiters to be upfront and honest about the demands and opportunities volunteer positions entail. Misleading information during the recruitment process could attract more volunteers initially but they are more likely to experience burnout and leave. 

Treat volunteers as individuals
Volunteers are not duct tape; they shouldn’t be used as a fix-all for any job that comes up. Volunteers have unique skills and ideas that they wish to contribute. A psychology report published by the University of Nebraska discovered the leading causes of volunteer burnout are poorly defined roles within the organization and a lack of voice. Successful volunteer managers find a position within their nonprofit that meets the unique talents of individual participants.

Team leaders shouldn’t be afraid to offer individual compliments. Nonprofits usually offer a positive atmosphere and there is the instinct to spread praise around to all participants. According to The NonProfit Times, this can come off as condescending and false if it’s not genuine. A unique bit of positive feedback will motivate a team member much more than a widespread “Good job team.”

Manage roles and schedules
Just like all employees, volunteers do not like to be overworked. Poorly put together schedules and positions can be frustrating and hurt volunteer retention. Common problems include not having enough manpower for a certain event, asking volunteers to fulfill duties they’re not prepared for or tasks that take much longer than originally expected. It is important that nonprofits find tools to efficiently and consistently manage their pool of talent. Many volunteer resources suggest utilizing technology to aid in the process. Volunteer management software is an easy and effective tool for creating schedules, logging history and preparing future tasks.

Keep communication open
Each of the previous suggestions rely on good communication between the organization and its volunteers. As discussed before, making sure that a person has a voice that is heard is key to retaining his or her service in the future. Starting with the initial application, volunteers should have the opportunity to share their questions, ideas and feedback. If possible, managers would be wise to provide opportunities for one-on-one interactions. Nonprofits can set up portals for volunteers to track their hours, research participation opportunities and sign up for events. Anything a nonprofit can do to listen to and encourage its people’s unique voice will lead to volunteer investment and retention. 

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