Volunteer Retention and Appreciation

By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. & Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, Turnaround Life, Inc.

Many nonprofit organizations rely heavily on the work of volunteers to carry out their missions. Once you realize that the relationship your organization has with your volunteers determines the sustainability of your nonprofit, volunteer retention and appreciation become critical factors in your success.

How does your nonprofit approach retaining volunteers? What are you doing to keep them engaged, fulfilled and motivated? Let’s explore a simple strategy to engage, appreciate and retain your volunteers.

Showing Appreciation to Volunteers

Volunteers are active participants in helping you achieve your mission and improve your community, so you should acknowledge their help and show appreciation.

  • Start by thanking them. Understand how important they are for your nonprofit. The reasons why volunteers may stop helping a nonprofit often include lack of communication, an unorganized nonprofit, not feeling a sense of professionalism, not receiving feedback and not feeling like they’re making a difference. Therefore, express your gratitude with a simple but sincere recognition of their efforts and a “thank you.”
  • Communicate effectively. Keep volunteers up-to-date with organizational events and opportunities. People feel appreciated when invited to collaborate and participate, so be sure to make communications a two-way street, using different media and tools, to share and seek information. Then listen and use the insights your volunteers provide. Be sure to talk about how any upcoming changes and improvements have resulted from volunteer feedback.
  • Provide memorable experiences. Volunteering should offer an enriching and rewarding experience in exchange for their time. Share success stories with your volunteers, allow them to see the impact they’re making in the community and projects in action, understand their interests and take time to get to know them to personalize experiences based on preferences and abilities.
  • Recognize personal achievements. Providing recognition boosts engagement by creating a link between the volunteer and the impact they’re making in the community.

How to Retain Volunteers

  • Create a solid strategy for a volunteer training program. Proper training is one of the most important factors in the sustainability of your volunteer program—and your nonprofit. Proper training is key for the motivation, development and retention of your volunteers. Remember that no training program is set in stone and that it will benefit from optimization along the way.
  • Respect volunteers’ values and time. By understanding your volunteers, you’ll get to know them and what they stand for and will be able to truly respect them. Value their opinions, minimize the risk of gossip at volunteer events and be aware of their comfort zone and don’t push them to cross it. Take the time to learn something from them to improve your nonprofit.
  • Be accessible at all times. Volunteers often encounter issues when it comes to fulfilling their commitment to your organization. Those issues should be solved efficiently and quickly, and the best way to do it is to be accessible to them at all times. Create a contact group on social media, provide several ways to contact you and provide a designated shadow if they need immediate help.
  • Build a community. Nothing will make your volunteers feel more welcome than a social gathering. For example, organize a place and time, bring in some food and allow your volunteers to socialize before they get to work on a project. Neglected volunteers won’t come back, but those who make social connections will keep coming back to your nonprofit and your cause.

The vast majority of your volunteers will come and go; that’s the nature of their work as their priorities and availability change. It’s important to try new things and stay flexible, and the proven strategies above are a great starting point for showing appreciation to your volunteers. Follow them, and you will see a difference in the number of those who want to keep coming back to help.

Here at Turnaround Life, Inc., we aim to help organizations and programs that make it possible for people to turn their lives around. For more information about us, visit our website.

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