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Volunteer retention strategies that work

Now that COVID restrictions are starting to lift a bit, it seems like the right time to think about the role volunteers play in your organization. Whether it’s administrative support, event stewardship, skills-sharing, or mentoring, volunteering is an important part of most nonprofits. Never to be taken for granted, this post is all about developing a volunteer engagement model that will help you make the most of this precious resource.

Recruiting the right volunteers*

Volunteer roles take many shapes and forms. Whether it’s a short or long-term placement, it is important that you – and your volunteers – are clear about what you want, the time, tasks, and responsibilities involved. Once you have it on paper (or PDF) you need to get the message out there. But how to get volunteers? Your CRM is a good place to start. It will help you identify and target potential volunteers from within your existing donor community. But, don’t stop there. Make sure you broaden your recruitment process. Of course, you can advertise opportunities through your website, newsletter, and social media. You can also advertise with job sites, volunteer action groups, community groups, or centers. The more open and accessible the opportunity, the more likely you are to find the right person to fill it! *

 *Important Note: Before you advertise, ask yourself if you are looking for a volunteer or intern? If it’s an internship you’re after, paid opportunities are far more accessible and inclusive. 

How to deliver a winning volunteer experience

Finding the right volunteers is just the first step. It’s their journey with you that counts. So here are eight creative ways to engage volunteers and help make sure their experience is a good one. (Please note, these tips focus on onsite volunteers. If you are still keeping volunteers virtual, make sure to check out our blog post on Engagement Strategies for Managing Virtual Volunteers).

Have a warm welcome at the ready: When new volunteers arrive, do not just leave them to fend for themselves. First impressions count so take some time out to plan their induction.

Get the work environment ready. If they need a desk, make sure it has been allocated and cleared, and that any registration, email, and log-on details are ready (and working).

Have someone waiting to welcome your new volunteers and show them where they need to go, introduce them to key staff members, and give them a mini-tour!

Provide a Volunteer Induction Pack (yes, volunteers are VIPs). There is no one right recipe for this. As a baseline make sure you include information on your vision, mission and goals, a code of conduct and copies of all relevant policies, procedures, and processes.

Take the time to check in: Every volunteer engagement model should have a clear reporting framework. Put some time aside every couple of weeks (or at another interval that works) to check-in on their progress. Don’t just have a quick chat by the coffee machine. Do it right. Find a quiet space and make sure you are clear about the points you both want to discuss. This is your chance to celebrate success, but also to address any challenges or issues. Use it well!

Create a community people want to be part of: It might sound obvious, but you want volunteers to enjoy their time with you. One way to do this is to build connections and community – within your team, and across your volunteers. Inviting volunteers to staff events is a great way to increase engagement. Why not go one step further and create opportunities for volunteers to get to know each other as well. It does not have to cost much. An office ‘get together’, post-event social, or online forum will all help build those bonds.

Remember their why: It doesn’t matter if a volunteer is working on the front-line or helping out in the fundraising office. They are there for a reason, and that reason matters. Project visits, beneficiary stories, and evidence of impact will all help bring volunteers one step closer to your work.

Steward your heart out: Time is a gift like any other, and it is important that you treat it as such. Is there a birthday, volunteer anniversary, or office event on the horizon? Flag these opportunities, say ‘Thank You’, and give your volunteers the chance to engage with your organization outside of their formal commitment. You will be surprised how far a few small gestures can go.

Get creative with incentives and rewards: Volunteers might not be on your payroll, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to give. Why not shine a spotlight on star volunteers as part of your newsletter, digital, and social media communications? Everyone has a story to tell. Don’t miss out on theirs. Want to take it one step further? Incentive programs (‘Volunteer of the month’ anyone?) can help foster engagement and show people you value their time and support.

Give people opportunity to grow: Volunteering is a two-way process. On the one hand, you get some great skills and human resources to help move your mission forward. But volunteer work can also be a valuable professional experience. So be on the look-out for extra opportunities that will help your volunteers grow.

Cover expenses: If you do not cover costs, you make the opportunity exclusive. No volunteer should be out-of-pocket working for you. Make sure you have a robust expense policy and that reimbursements are made on time.

Never skimp on volunteer safety: Ensuring the safety and well-being of your volunteers is an absolute must. It should go without saying, but before any volunteer placement begins, you need to make sure your HR and training procedures are complete, and that all the correct paperwork is in place. You have a duty of care to your volunteers, staff, and service users. The process might feel laborious, but it is important to get it right.

And finally, make a plan for the future

Like fundraising, volunteering is all about the long-game. Yes, you are filling a short term need. But just because you’ve said goodbye, doesn’t mean the relationship has ended. Far from it. People who volunteer for an organization have a history with you. They have memories of you. A good volunteer retention strategy will cater for communication in and beyond an individual placement – making sure that you are ready to offer new opportunities for people to get involved with, and give to, your organization.

thankQ CRM can help you manage your volunteers and create strong relationships with them.  Contact us to see how. Set up your personalized demo today.