April 13, 2021

ABC’s of Volunteer Retention

Non Profit Consulting and Training - Wendy Biro-Pollard 008

Recruiting and retaining volunteers is an on going challenge for most non-profit organizations.  Once THE place to volunteer, hospitals have seen an overall decline in the number of individuals who choose to volunteer their time in  auxiliaries and volunteer departments.  So when you do find those precious volunteers, keeping them should become a number one priority!

After careful thought and a little bit of research, it is my opinion that successful volunteer retention can be enhanced with a few simple steps.

A. Make your organization attractive. Shar McBee, in To Lead is To Serve, says that when you are feeling positive about your work (and your organization) it attracts others to participate.  On the other hand, when you feel overwhelmed or burdened, no one volunteers to join in.  A great exercise to rekindle a feeling of spirit at your next meeting is to have members break into pairs, and ask the following questions:

  • What did you love about your volunteer work in the beginning?
  • What was important about this work?
  • What is challenging about it now?
  • What is fun about it?

Take the feedback from this exercise and put it in your newsletters and promotional materials, post quotes and pictures of these folks on your bulletin board and website, and share it with the staff and friends of your hospital.  And then, watch as the energy of your organization goes up!

B. Create a great, big welcome mat! Individuals who “join”  volunteer organizations want to be able to network and build quality relationships that fulfill both their personal and professional needs. Cynthia D’Amour’s, How to Turn Generation Me into Active Members of Your Association, has some great tips on helping your new members make a successful entry:

  • Create a new member welcome kit which includes a current directory, a welcome letter from your President or leader, details about membership benefits, a current newsletter and information on how to get involved in fundraising, special events, etc. Get it to your new members as soon as possible.
  • Have enthusiastic volunteers call and personally welcome new volunteers to your organization.
  • Don’t stop contacting them after the first month. Call again in three months. Survey them in six months to see how they are doing.
  • Provide board members with a list of new volunteers at each board meeting. Discuss how to tap into their skills.
  • Get board members to call individuals who come a few times and drop out. The feedback you get from these interviews will tell you if you need to shore up your systems and make course corrections.

C. Remember the WIIFM’s!

That’s right-the “what’s in it for me.”  In days past, hospital auxiliaries often had waiting lists.  If you wanted to be a member, you often had to start out in a job that did not necessarily match your interests or skills.  Today’s volunteer will remain if personal and professional development is honored and encouraged.

  • Do your volunteers perform meaningful work?
  • Do they have a chance to learn new skills or use the ones they have?
  • If they chose, can volunteers move up–gaining increased responsibility?
  • How much flexibility do you create in your scheduling? Do you have interesting work for individuals who have limited time?

Because of the increased competition for their time, volunteers are frequently reevaluating whether or not your organization is a worthy investment for them.  Therefore, helping your volunteers stay involved requires a bit of effort, a willingness to actively serve your new and old members, and regular communication from leadership.

Finally, if people are to give up free time to volunteer–away from friends and family–their work environment must be enjoyable.  I recently started a new job, and one of the main reasons that I took the position was because staff showed me great courtesy.  But most importantly, I could tell that they enjoyed their work and were committed to making a difference in the lives of the people they served.  I saw a lot of smiling faces.   As Shar McBee says, “nothing attracts like joyous heart!”

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