Your volunteers handle essential organization functions, from nonprofit campaigns to internal opportunities. Engaging your existing volunteers can help you improve retention.
Reasons Volunteers Quit or Don’t Return
Volunteers have many personal and external reasons why they might choose to stop volunteering. To increase volunteer retention at your organization, you must understand why volunteers leave to create actionable retention strategies.
Some examples of reasons why volunteers might not come back include:
- Time constraints
- Unaligned or lacking skillsets and experience
- Role is outside their comfort zone
- Disconnect from the cause or lack of inspiration
- Burn out
Volunteers might find their experience with your organization was missing something. Other causes for low volunteer retention include a lack of:
- Engagement or excitement
- Connection to the organization or other volunteers
- Clear goals or connection to impact
- New opportunities and experiences
- Communication and follow-ups
Your retention strategies can help you address these reasons, ensuring you create a better volunteer experience at your organization.
How to Keep Volunteers From Getting Bored
When volunteer boredom can come from so many different places, developing a comprehensive retention plan can help your organization better engage and connect with your volunteer community.
1. Understand Why People Volunteer
Individuals seek out volunteer opportunities for many reasons. When you want to learn how to keep volunteers coming back, you will need to know why they initially joined. These reasons can serve as vital motivational factors, personalizing their experience and developing a more positive relationship with your organization. Some common reasons a new volunteer might start with your organization include:
- Connecting to your cause: Your organization’s cause and impact can be a powerful way to reach and engage new volunteers. Whether your efforts have touched their lives personally or they are just passionate about your values, these individuals will be ready to get started.
- Seeking a community and social scene: Some people might want to connect with others rather than follow something they are passionate about. Volunteer opportunities are great ways for individuals to make new friends or connect with their communities because organizations can attract many like-minded people. Providing social experiences can assure these individuals that there is a place for them in your volunteering environment.
- Developing new skills: Many people use volunteering as a low-stakes way to learn new things and expand their experiences. Whether they want something for their resume or an exciting new hobby, they can be powerful volunteer resources focused on growth.
- Catering to moral or social values: People often believe that volunteering indicates that someone is a good person. They might associate volunteering with selflessness or dedication. While people can get many experiences from volunteering, individuals should still feel good about their work. Some religions might emphasize volunteering and helping, attracting more people to your organization.
- Filling a school requirement: Many schools ask students to earn volunteer hours before graduating. Students might choose your organization over others for several reasons, from your cause to event availability. Catering to what student volunteers need can help you create a good experience that can maintain their interest, increasing their chance of returning.
Regardless of their reason, all of your volunteers can bring something valuable to your organization and efforts. When you meet these reasons, volunteers can find the experience they want, increasing their chance of returning for more experiences and events.
2. Give Volunteers the Training and Resources They Need
Some volunteers get overwhelmed when they start volunteering because they get thrown into the action without any onboarding or training. Proper training can help volunteers feel prepared and qualified for tasks and assignments. They can better understand how they can use their skills at your organization and how their actions can make an impact.
Depending on the position and available resources, your volunteer onboarding and training can have many forms and strategies. You may just need to walk volunteers through what they’ll be doing and quickly tour workspaces so they know where to find everything they’ll need. For more prominent roles or tasks, you can offer planned, longer training sessions that are more in-depth and comprehensive.
You can support and encourage your new volunteers as they learn by observing and remaining close by. Available supervisors and managers provide new volunteers with a familiar, friendly face they can turn to for questions. You can also guide them through tasks, ensuring they’re doing well and correcting mistakes early. Or you can pair them with a more experienced mentor to handle this for you. Either way, when volunteers know they are doing good work, they can feel more connected to the cause and proud of their role.
Gamification is another powerful way to engage your volunteers during onboarding. By using game elements and features, your volunteers can work through fun, engaging modules that feel more like play than training. Training is one of the first interactions volunteers will have with your organization, so creating a memorable, positive experience will entice them to return and show them what’s to come.
3. Show Your Appreciation
Understanding their connection to your overall cause and organization community can impact your volunteer retention rates. Your volunteers are the heart of your organization, responsible for the actions that make your outcomes possible. In 2021, volunteers were valued at $28.54 an hour. While this metric can help you understand their value, you should also clarify this to volunteers.
You can implement many strategies to show your appreciation to volunteers, including:
- Volunteer shoutouts: When your volunteers do something amazing, you can make them feel accomplished by sharing the news with the rest of your organization and community. If you have a newsletter, publish volunteer milestones. Tag your volunteers in social media posts, so they can share their involvement with their friends and family. Introduce recruits with welcome announcements and activities.
- Volunteer of the month: Take your shoutouts further by showcasing one volunteer each month for their outstanding work and contributions. Accept ongoing nominations from managers and other volunteers, so they can empower their community members for their good work. A committee can select individuals from their submissions and share information about their accomplishments and commitment on social media, newsletters and other communication efforts.
- Team recognition: Like individuals, your volunteer groups and teams can make incredible accomplishments. When your teams reach their goals or objectives, you can show your appreciation by highlighting their achievements as you would individuals. These types of praise can boost teamwork and collaborative efforts, emphasizing that team efforts and comradery are just as essential and impactful as individual ones. Group volunteering can help people better connect with other individuals and enhance the social aspect of your organization.
- Milestone and gamification incentives: Incentives are a powerful appreciation technique. Gifts can show you care about the time and effort invested in your organization. You can even create organization merch, like T-shirts, pens and mugs, to bring your organization into their homes. Your volunteers can earn gifts in multiple ways. They might receive them at scheduled milestones, celebrating their loyalty to your organization. Volunteers can also strive to earn incentives through gamification modules, where accomplishments can transfer into redeemable gifts.
- Goal progression: Your volunteers might participate in one event to help you reach a particular end goal. You can show how their actions impacted your progression through updates and graphics. Thermometer bars are great for visualizing accomplishments and the big picture, which you can share with teams after events. For example, if your organization wants to clean a specified amount of trash from your local beaches, you can update it with how much waste you’ve picked up after each cleaning event.
Even the simplest forms of appreciation can go a long way. When you want to keep your volunteers engaged, showing them their value through appreciation can show you care about them and your causes.
4. Play to Their Strengths
Every volunteer joins your organization for a different experience and comes with unique skills to support it. While you can teach essential skills and processes in training sessions, some volunteers will have natural ones that set them apart. You can encourage these individuals to pursue positions and roles where they can better use their skills here.
Two skills that can determine volunteer actions include leadership and empathy. Some people are born leaders. They know how to communicate with teams and organize tasks. People might turn to them instinctively for advice and instructions, making them an unofficial leader amongst volunteers. When new leadership opportunities arise, you can offer them to these volunteers.
Empathy and emotional skills are great when working with people. While all volunteering involves some social interaction, certain positions might put volunteers before more people or those in more vulnerable situations. For example, you might work with families displaced by a natural disaster. Putting your empathic volunteers on the front lines can create better experiences for the ones you are helping and your community.
5. Listen to Their Feedback
Your volunteers are valuable sources of feedback and drivers of improvement. When you implement their ideas, they feel like a valued community member and can spark change in several ways. Further, volunteers might be more ready to leave organizations with flaws they refuse to face or fix.
You can communicate several ways with volunteers to receive feedback, including:
- Surveys and forms: Some volunteers might have valuable insight but feel uncomfortable sharing it with others. Surveys and forms can provide these individuals with opportunities to give feedback in anonymous and online settings. You can share these through their preferred communication method, including email and text messaging. If you want more generalized input on events, you can even post them on your social media pages.
- Focus groups: Marketing teams often use focus groups to assess concept and product success before launching. You can also use this strategy as a creative way to engage volunteers after events. They can share their volunteering experiences and what they’ve liked and disliked while using other participants to drive conversations.
- Follow-ups: Sometimes, volunteers need breaks to prevent burnout or accommodate changing schedules. You can follow up with dedicated volunteers you haven’t seen in a while to check in and see if there’s anything you can do to meet their needs. You might find you are missing opportunities for entire markets and audiences where people want to get involved.
While these communication methods are great for engaging existing volunteers, you can also use them for connecting with new and one-time ones. You can ask them about their experience and likelihood of returning, helping you better understand how to keep volunteers. Connecting with new volunteers can help them feel more valued and appreciated by your organization.
6. Cultivate Your Volunteers for Other, Bigger Roles
Volunteer boredom and burnout are serious phenomena, especially for those who participate in the same ways every time. You can promote better engagement and retention by fostering other opportunities and roles for volunteers. This strategy is excellent for keeping volunteers who want to learn new skills or gain new experiences.
When planning new campaigns, you can advertise all available roles and their requirements. Volunteers can explore what you offer and decide what feels right for them. For larger roles, you can host regular training sessions to encourage individuals to learn new skills and receive the knowledge they need to take on new responsibilities. Valuing growth can support individuals when they take an interest in something new.
Determining how to navigate volunteer boredom with new learning opportunities can ensure you establish a culture that allows individuals to explore everything your organization offers.
7. Know When to Stop Accepting Volunteers
Each volunteer has something unique they can bring, but their time is also valuable. When they volunteer, they are looking for a meaningful experience that reflects the time they are putting in. You create a more authentic and impactful volunteer experience by knowing when you have enough helpers on teams and projects.
More hands can mean more help, but it can also create spaces where people have nothing meaningful to do. They might get stuck doing repetitive, trivial tasks that have little impact on the overall cause or engage them in the way they want. You can set up an application system to measure cause interest and minimize having too many volunteers on site. Even if every volunteer doesn’t get selected, you can reach out to them later when you do need their help.
8. Respect Volunteer Boundaries
Growth and opportunities are great strategies when deciding how to motivate volunteers. However, volunteer autonomy is essential for maintaining their desired experience. Always assure your volunteers they can reject opportunities or tasks when asked or offered. You can create a more empowered environment by asking groups for help rather than individuals who might feel pressured. When volunteers know they can say no and you will respect it, they will feel more comfortable coming back and trying new things.
Improve Your Volunteer Retention With Volgistics
To increase volunteer engagement and retention, you need the right tools for your organization. Volgistics offers volunteer management and communication software solutions to help nonprofit organizations connect with volunteers and cultivate meaningful relationships.
The volunteer tracking software helps you create, organize and personalize volunteer profiles by adding pictures, flags by role and demographics and group teams together. The volunteer communication management solution enables you to send automated messages, create checklists outlining role requirements and sort contacts. The tracking features help better engage volunteers by tracking their progress toward awards. It also includes a birthday list, so you can show your volunteers your appreciation on their birthdays.