Let’s say you’ve successfully recruited a few new volunteers for your organization. They’re bright-eyed and eager to start working with your nonprofit because your cause is important to them. These volunteers have a great first week but, over time, you begin to notice that they are showing up less and less, until their involvement completely tapers off. Why is that?
Your volunteers are the backbone of your organization. They are passionate individuals who devote their time and energy to your cause because they genuinely care about giving back. However, despite the effort you may have put into your volunteer program, your volunteers just aren’t sticking around.
Even if you have an excellent volunteer recruitment strategy, you won’t get very far with these new relationships if you aren’t putting effort into volunteer retention as well.
Essentially, volunteer retention encourages volunteers to continue their involvement with your organization. Incorporating a volunteer retention plan into your program can not only reduce your turnover rate, but it can also help you build lasting connections in your community.
At NonProfitEasy, our objective is to help nonprofits like yours inspire, grow, and succeed — and retaining your volunteers is one major way that you can achieve these goals. In this crash course on volunteer retention, we’ll cover:
Improving your volunteer retention strategy has outstanding long-term benefits: you won’t have to put as much effort into recruitment, you’ll enhance your nonprofit’s community, and you’ll create a welcoming environment for people who care about your cause to work together. Your volunteers do so much to support you, so it’s high time you demonstrate that you respect their contributions.
Volunteer Retention Basics + FAQ
Before we dive into our top strategies for encouraging your volunteers to stick around, let’s take a closer look at some of the most commonly asked questions about volunteer retention.
What is volunteer retention?
Volunteer retention is the ability of your organization to maintain your volunteers’ involvement over a period of time. You want to aim for a high volunteer retention rate, which means that your volunteers are sticking around for as long or longer than they said they would.
Some organizations do not ask volunteers how long they plan to help out — and you certainly don’t have to. But having some sort of barometer can help you gauge a volunteer’s interest and potentially orient their time with your organization in a way that encourages further involvement.
What is a good volunteer retention rate?
Although you probably want to hang onto as many volunteers as possible, a 100% retention rate is typically unfeasible. Even if you have several passionate volunteers, it’s likely that life will get in the way for some of them — maybe they’re moving somewhere else, take on a more demanding job, or simply find they don’t have the time between other responsibilities. So, if your retention rate isn’t perfect, don’t worry. It happens.
The national average for volunteer retention rates hovers somewhere around 65%. This means that out of every 3 volunteers, one will discontinue their services sooner than expected. You want your retention rate to fall at 65% — or, ideally, above! The more volunteers you can retain, the better.
How do you increase your volunteer retention rates?
Even if your volunteer retention rate is below 65%, there are lots of strategies that can help you to increase your retention rate so that your volunteers will want to stay involved. Perhaps you’re putting more effort into recruiting volunteers than retaining them, or you don’t have a robust program in place to support your volunteers once they’re on board.
Keeping your volunteer program organized, providing training opportunities, frequently expressing your gratitude, and requesting feedback are just some of the ways that you can enhance your volunteer retention strategy. Later in this guide, we’ll unpack our top 10 strategies for successfully retaining your volunteers.
How do you attract volunteers?
Before you can start to retain your volunteers, you need to recruit some first. First, you’ll want to figure out what kinds of tasks your volunteers will complete. Then, use this information as a guiding measure for your outreach.
Once you’ve isolated your volunteer-oriented tasks, such as pledge drives or record-keeping, you can begin the recruitment process. Here are some of the best practices for attracting volunteers to your organization:
- Determine who you’re trying to recruit: Because everyone brings a different skillset to the table, take some time to consider what skills would be most useful for your tasks and where you should focus your recruiting efforts. For example, if you’re looking for volunteers to support a program for young children, you could appeal to the local high school for a closer mentoring style.
- Create a clear job description: Tell your volunteers exactly what they will be doing, for how long, and anything else they should expect while working with your organization. Clarity from the beginning builds trust and ensures that the volunteers you’re recruiting are truly interested.
- Use your network: Don’t be afraid to reach out to your network as you’re recruiting volunteers! Donors might be very interested in connecting with your organization in a different way. You might already have some passionate volunteers on your hands.
- Keep the application simple: The last thing you want is for a potential volunteer to express interest in your organization, only for them to abandon your application because it’s too long. Only ask for absolutely necessary information — you can always learn more once the volunteer starts.
Although recruiting volunteers certainly has its challenges, there are passionate individuals who will make time in their schedules to give back to your cause. Your job is to create a welcoming and supportive environment where they can make a difference and feel inclined to come back time and time again.
Now that you have a better understanding of the basics of volunteer retention, let’s take a look at some strategies that can help you to sustain your team of volunteers.
Our Top 10 Volunteer Retention Strategies for Success
Cultivating your relationships with volunteers can help them feel valued and supported, but what are the best ways to show your volunteers that you care? We’ve picked out top 10 strategies to help you increase your volunteer retention rates and create a supportive atmosphere for your dedicated volunteers.
1. Show your appreciation.
While it might seem obvious, showing appreciation for your volunteers is one of the most effective ways to retain your supporters. Although volunteers are willingly donating their time, everyone appreciates a simple thank-you or a display of gratitude. Here are some ways that you can show your appreciation:
- Volunteer shoutouts: Got a newsletter or social media account? Try featuring a different volunteer each week or month
- Swag bags: Let your volunteers represent your organizations! Offer them free t-shirts, mugs, or other merchandise that can show off their involvement with your nonprofit.
- Birthday celebrations: Taking your volunteers out for their birthday is a great way to create community and show your volunteers you appreciate their commitment and friendship.
- Thank-you notes: What’s more reliable than a thank-you note? A handwritten letter demonstrates to your volunteers that you appreciate all that they do for your organization.
Showing your gratitude to your volunteers can help them to feel valued and appreciated, which will encourage them to stay involved.
2. Prioritize volunteer-wide community.
Encouraging friendships among your volunteers is a great way to encourage individuals to continue coming back. Community-building activities, events outside of your facility, and collaborative projects can help your volunteers get to know each other.
A strong volunteer community also makes the work more enjoyable. If your volunteers are having a good time, they will be more likely to stick around.
3. Train your volunteers.
Your volunteers will feel more invested in your nonprofit and more prepared to continue working with you if they have been properly trained. Plus, you can batch up new volunteers to create a tighter-knit community.
Although training all of your volunteers might be time-consuming, the long-term benefits are certainly worth it. Not only will your volunteers know all of the proper protocols and procedures for your nonprofit, but they will also feel like you’ve invested in them. Volunteering will then take on a different level of responsibility and encourage volunteers to fulfill their commitment.
4. Communicate effectively.
Clear communication with your volunteers is crucial. Volunteers want to feel like they’re working with a trustworthy and organized nonprofit, so being straightforward and open is ideal. Here are some tips about how to communicate effectively with your volunteers:
- Be clear with goals: Effectively communicating your goals, expectations, and tasks will help your volunteers feel more secure in their roles. If a volunteer finds that your organization is disorganized, they might feel less inclined to become involved.
- Use a volunteer management system: Whether you manage a small or large group of volunteers, incorporating volunteer management software into your nonprofit’s process can help you stay organized and connected with your team.
- Send regular updates: Being able to quickly contact your volunteers is essential to communicate hours, location changes, and other important information. This shows that you value your volunteers’ time and want them to be in-the-know.
Everyone appreciates effective communication, especially your volunteers. When they know exactly what to expect of your organization and their role, it demonstrates that you value their time and contributions.
5. Publicly recognize key supporters.
Giving your volunteers public recognition is a great way to make your volunteers feel like they are an essential part of your organization — which they are! Volunteers deserve just as much recognition as major donors because both groups help your nonprofit to forward the social good.
Consider launching a volunteer of the month program or other recognition plan. These programs, often promoted through social media or regular newsletters, would allow you to highlight the contributions of highly-involved volunteers.
6. Ensure convenient and accessible opportunities.
Ultimately, you want your volunteer program to be accessible to anyone who is passionate about your cause. That means that you should allow for some flexibility in terms of hours and commitment.
Allow volunteers to express how much time they can reasonably commit. If the barrier to entry is too high — for example, if you required volunteers to contribute 40 hours per month to be considered “active” — you might be unintentionally discouraging interested individuals from participating.
In addition to your long-term volunteer positions, offer some spots for shorter commitments or, if it works with your services, you could even host volunteer events online. And who knows? Short-term volunteers have the capacity to become long-term ones, given the right encouragement and support.
7. Match volunteers with relevant roles.
As you learn more about your volunteers and what they do outside of working with your organization, it’s a great idea to match volunteers with skills they enjoy using. For example, maybe you have an artist in the group. This individual could potentially handle t-shirt or flyer designs.
By matching volunteers with relevant roles, you ensure that you’re continuing to engage them. Rather than assign your volunteers to a task they might be unengaged in, giving them assignments that fit with their unique interests allows them to do something they enjoy while helping a cause they are passionate about.
8. Keep detailed volunteer records.
Maintaining organized volunteer records is important not just for administrative purposes, but also to effectively manage your volunteers. Your volunteers appreciate when you know exactly how long they are going to be working, how to contact them, and even a little bit of personal information so that you can connect with them.
In your records, you can store all of this information so that it is readily accessible when you need it. These are the volunteer essentials you should have on hand for all of your team members:
- Contact information
- Contributed hours
- Additional support
Organizing your volunteer records demonstrates professionalism and attentiveness. Taking the time to keep detailed records shows your volunteers that you value their time and want to build a lasting relationship.
9. Invite volunteers to participate in upcoming events.
Your volunteers picked your organization for a reason — they want to be involved with your cause! Consider inviting your volunteers to upcoming events at your nonprofit as attendees. Not only will including your volunteers help build community, but it will also show the volunteer that you appreciate them and want them to continue being an integral part of your organization.
Inviting short-term volunteers to your upcoming events could also encourage their continued involvement with your organization, especially if the event they attend is enjoyable, educational, or in line with their interests.
10. Ask for and listen to feedback.
Your volunteers have hands-on experience and their perspective about working for your organization is going to be different than yours. Rather than assume potential problems, it’s best to simply ask your volunteers for feedback.
You could do this through a volunteer survey after the individual has completed a certain number of hours or after they have been working with your organization for a benchmark period of time. Here are some questions that you could include in your volunteer survey:
- How satisfied do you feel after volunteering?
- Do you feel you have received enough training?
- Would you recommend volunteering with us? Why or why not?
- How valued do you feel as a volunteer?
- What do you enjoy most about volunteering here?
- What do you dislike about volunteering here?
However, just asking for feedback is not enough. You also have to listen to what your volunteers have to say, particularly if you notice any patterns among the responses. By implementing your volunteers’ suggestions, you demonstrate that you care about their experience. When volunteers feel cared for, they are more likely to continue working with your organization.
Increasing your volunteer retention rates is definitely possible. All it takes is a little extra time and effort dedicated to improving your volunteer program. By showing gratitude, staying organized, and listening to your volunteers, your retention rate will be climbing in no time.
To learn more about supporting your volunteers and donors, check out these additional resources:
- Donor Database Buyer’s Guide | How to Choose Your Software: Not sure where to start with donor databases? We’ve got you covered in this guide to choosing the right software.
- 20+ Volunteer Appreciation Ideas and Gifts to Say Thank You: If you want to show your volunteers that you appreciate their commitment to your organization, check out our list of over 20 ideas to help you say thank you.
- Donor Management Software & Nonprofit CRM: Keeping track of all of your donors can be difficult and time consuming. Incorporating management software into your nonprofit’s processes can help you stay organized and let you get back to doing what you love.