5 tips for keeping your nonprofit’s volunteers

April 19-25, 2009, is National Volunteer Appreciation Week. Will those volunteers you are recognizing this year still be around for next year’s recognition activities

The Corporation for National & Community Service’s annual survey on volunteering in America consistently reports millions of people volunteer their time to worthwhile charitable and community causes.

However, the report also shows equally large numbers of people each year are giving up on their volunteer activities.

This creates a revolving door of volunteers triggering a never-ending cycle of recruiting and training to replace those who have left. If you could increase your volunteer retention rate, how much time and money could you save?

Understanding the volunteer’s perspective is critical if you want to reduce your rate of volunteer loss. Here are 5 tips that will help.

Realize people get involved for their reasons and a good cause may not be enough to keep them. Take time to understand why your volunteer signed up. What is their true purpose for wanting to participate with your particular organization? They are likely to have a need that relates more to a personal reason and your organization or cause provides an opportunity for meeting that need. Are you fulfilling that need? If not, chances are high that is a volunteer or member you’ll loose.

I challenge you to test yourself to find out how well you know your board members or volunteers. Do you know anything about their family? Do you know when their birthday is? Can you name their hobbies? Can you describe what they do for a living other than name their place of employment? The big challenge question for you is: Do you know what their personal reason for being involved with your group really is?

People want to feel connected. Work to build personal relationships with your volunteers. If you don’t know them, you’ll loose them. Help make sure relationships are being fostered between volunteers. Relationships develop connection to your organization and will keep your volunteers involved. Showing up to work with friends is a major motivator. Create opportunities that ensure the new person is made to feel a welcomed part of the organization.

Consistent communications with volunteers will also help with your connection efforts.

Don’t use “sink or swim” management techniques. Often organizations will put someone in a leadership role without providing guidance, background information, training, or assistance from those previously serving in the same role. This common occurrence is a big contributor to frustration and increases chances of failure.

People don’t volunteer to be frustrated. They obviously don’t sign up to see their efforts fail. This negative experience is another contributing factor for turnover. In addition to losing another volunteer, your organization also has allowed an important activity to not be successful by not stepping in to ensure the success of those in leadership roles.

Loading up an eager performer who won’t say no is a sure way to create burnout. It is easy to give tasks to a new volunteer who is willing to say yes. How many times do you see those shinning stars flame out in a short period of time? Keep that performer around longer by working harder to get others involved instead of always turning to the easy yes person.

Take time to recognize your volunteers. People want to be appreciated. Don’t wait for your year end awards. Be generous with phrase and recognition. Make sure your volunteers know they aren’t being taken for granted. A simple thank you that shows someone their efforts are making a difference can have a huge impact on how they feel about the organization. The better they feel, the longer they will stay.

Act on these 5 tips and you will help make sure the volunteers you are recognizing during this year’s Volunteer Appreciation Week will still be contributing their valuable service a year from now!

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