How to Retain Your Non-Profit’s Volunteers

Many non-profit organizations rely on volunteer labor to keep running, but retaining volunteers is notoriously difficult. They’re not being paid, the position is always a lower priority than a full-time job, and people too often end up feeling unfilled. Fortunately, a little effort can go a long way in making volunteers want to stick around.

Does your non-profit struggle to retain volunteers? Use these tips to make sure they’ll want to stick around!

Be clear about expectations upfront.

Volunteers are much more likely to keep volunteering if the position meets their expectations, so be clear about what it will be like from the beginning, including in any job descriptions or interviews. The required schedule, number of hours, type of work, necessary skills, level of flexibility, and team structure will all affect whether the position is a good fit – so they should all be stated upfront. Discussing any obstacles that are likely to come up will also help volunteers understand what they’re getting into and be prepared when issues arise later.

Make sure the volunteer program is well-organized.

Even at well-run organizations, volunteer programs are notoriously disorganized, especially when volunteers are in a supplementary or support role. But nothing will discourage them and lower their commitment like having to navigate a disorganized program. To keep your volunteers engaged, try to place them in well-defined roles, appoint a responsive contact person, and stick to the schedule and other expectations you’ve set. Of course, volunteers need to flexible and adaptable as well, but even talking about that upfront can help them feel less disheartened when things don’t go according to plan.

Provide recognition and appreciation.

Just like anyone else, volunteers like to feel appreciated for their work, especially since they aren’t being paid for it. As a non-profit, you probably don’t have a ton of money to spend on volunteer appreciation, but even highlighting volunteers on social media, hosting a potluck for them, and providing thoughtful letters of recommendation can go a long way.

Offer opportunities for volunteers.

Most non-profits lack the budget to provide lots of perks for volunteers, but things like training, mentorship, and networking opportunities can help feel like continuing to volunteer is worth their while.

Many people are driven to volunteer in part by the possibility of developing skills, learning about a different sector, or meeting new people. While organizations should be focused more on their mission than on serving volunteers, facilitating some of these opportunities can provide an incentive for them to continue volunteering. When it’s possible for your organization, offering training, assigning mentors, and hosting networking events can all help volunteers feel like they’re benefiting from the experience, which will make them more likely to stay.

Show volunteers the results of their effort.

Volunteers are often left in the dark about the importance of their work and the impacts of the organization overall. Make sure they see the results of their labor, and they’ll be more likely to stay committed to volunteering.

Volunteers don’t always see the impacts of their efforts, or of the organization’s work as a whole. This disconnect creates a serious retention issue, because those who feel like they’re not making much difference won’t be as interested in staying. But being able to understand the results of their work and the difference the organization is making can help volunteers feel more fulfilled by their position and invested in the organization. You can use volunteer meetings, e-mail, or even social media to share statistics and stories that illustrate their impact.

Create team unity.

It’s now common knowledge that having “work friends” is one of the biggest factors in happiness at the office, and the same principle can be applied to volunteering. If volunteers feel connected to each other and to employees at the organization, they’ll likely be happier volunteering there and more motivated to keep showing up. Do what you can to help volunteers get to know each other and to facilitate their relationships, such as through orientation events, volunteer appreciation parties, and just having people work together regularly.

Of course, most non-profits operate with small budgets, limited resources, and staff who are already overburdened, and they have other concerns that likely take precedence over volunteer satisfaction. But at the same time, organizations that rely on volunteers for major components of their work need to make sure those people are reasonably satisfied or they’ll stop coming. The increase in volunteer retention that should come from implementing ideas like these will be well worth it for most non-profits.

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