Keeping volunteers engaged in your nonprofit can feel like a never ending job. And, with more and more of our time being divided among social media, work, family, chores, TV, other causes—holding on to your volunteers isn’t getting any easier.
There’s a good chance that you already struggle with one of the most common issues facing nonprofit organizations: keeping volunteers interested.
It’s a common issue for a reason: the nonprofit sector relies on volunteers to help keep their overhead low—AKA make sure as many donor dollars as possible “go toward the cause”. This is inherently a good thing. However, a lot of nonprofits don’t invest the time or money needed to properly recruit, train, and manage volunteers. And this can make keeping volunteers interested pretty challenging.
Many volunteers who give their time to a cause they believe in are stretched pretty thin and your nonprofit can quickly fall to the bottom of their ever growing todo list. The good news is there are a few ways you can show your volunteers how important they are to your nonprofit and encourage them to keep volunteering. (Ways like a well planned orientation, being organized, staying flexible, and giving and receiving feedback are all important parts of keeping your volunteers interested.
Your nonprofit only gets one first impression.
Volunteer retention starts at the beginning of their involvement with your nonprofit. So, before you begin to recruit volunteers, you’ll want to prepare their orientation package. (As always, watching a few TED Talks on first impressions wouldn’t hurt either.)
Whether they’ve been a donor for years or are new to your nonprofit, giving them a warm welcome is step one. Welcome new volunteers in person is best, but, these days, not always possible. Either way, here’s a list of what to include in your orientation package:
- A bit of background information on your nonprofit. (Values, mission, history, etc.)
- A few past projects.
- A tour of your facilities or the event location.
- The impact that being a volunteer will have in the lives of those they are helping.
- A description of their volunteering task(s.
- Introduce them to a few other team members.
- A handout that they can take with them just in case they need a reminder.
Doing this will help your new volunteer get to know and understand your nonprofit (consistent messaging is important) and help them feel more connected to your cause.
Be one or two steps ahead of your volunteers.
Your volunteers’ time is valuable—don’t waste it. The biggest way to show your volunteers how much you appreciate the time they’re giving, is to respect the time they give. Use it wisely. Make volunteering for your nonprofit worth their time: be prepared.
- Let them know what they’ll be doing, when they’ll be doing it, and anything else they need to know before they get started.
- There is nothing worse for a volunteer than showing up and having nothing to do. So, plan a plan b just in case you overbook your volunteers. (We know, what a luxury that would be! But it does happen.)
- Try to schedule shifts that alternate the boring but necessary tasks with the more interesting, involved ones.
- Share your volunteer schedule way in advance.
- Be flexible. People have lives and things come up. Make sure to offer a variety of shifts (long and short) and a variety of tasks.
Ask your volunteers what they’d like to do.
A for-profit company probably wouldn’t hire someone with no experience in construction to build its new office. As a nonprofit, you probably can’t be quiet as picky, but there’s no rule against asking new volunteers what they like to do, what they’ve done in the past, and if there is anything in particular they’d like to learn.
These three questions will show volunteers that you are interested in them and will do your best to make their experience volunteering worth the time and energy. Their answers will also help you get to know and understand your new volunteers and find them a role they’ll actually like—which will up the chances of them sticking around long term.
Give back to your volunteers.
Your volunteers spend a lot of time volunteering for your nonprofit. And, yes, even though the reward of helping a good cause is reward enough, investing in your volunteers definitely won’t go unnoticed. Helping them learn and improve with workshops, mentoring opportunities, and training will not only empower them, it will show them that you’re as dedicated to them as they are to your cause.
Keep good volunteers by giving and receiving feedback.
Asking your volunteers how you’re doing is an important step in keeping them around. Even more important: actually listening and acting on their feedback. Continually adapting and improving will help you keep your volunteers interested while showing them that you care.
Giving your volunteers feedback is equally important. Be aware of how they’re performing and offer constructive feedback after key events and reinforce this feedback with training, mentors, etc.
Thank your volunteers.
This might seem obvious, but in the stress of a fundraising event or the seemingly endless campaign todo list, it’s easy to forget to say thank you.
Recognizing the time and effort your volunteers invest in your nonprofit will have a lasting, positive effect. A simple thank you at the end of a shift, a letter or email, a lunch every now and again, even some branded merch can show your volunteers how much you appreciate everything they’re doing.