Volunteer retention: 5 powerful strategies

What is volunteer retention rate?

Your volunteer retention rate is is calculated by dividing the number of volunteers who participated in your events this year by the number of volunteers from last year, then multiplying by 100. For instance, if you had 100 volunteers last year and 50 of them returned to volunteer this year, the retention rate would be 50%.

Volunteer retention effectively refers to the capacity of volunteer management within an organisation to maintain and engage volunteers for a specific duration.

In contrast, volunteer turnover relates to how quickly a volunteer disengages from their participation in volunteer activities after joining the organisation. Here we talk through some very easy strategies in which you can improve your volunteer retention.

1. Don’t leave them hanging

You can get a bank account in two minutes, sadly this is now setting the level of expectation… Just know your audience and what they are used to. You may never be able to match that but there are some easy steps you can take to keep them engaged.

  • Be responsive - Even if you don’t have an answer or an update, let them know you have seen their email
  • Keep them updated - Where are they in the process, what is next
  • Remind them they are needed and appreciated - You may not be able to speed up the process but you certainly can remind them that they are important to you. Human nature 101

2. Get them something to do ASAP

As a volunteer, there’s not much worse than slogging your way through a registration process and then sitting on the subs bench for weeks and weeks. I spent most my sporting life on the subs bench and I can promise you it’s no fun.

Give them a chance to get that addictive heartwarming feeling. They want to contribute but if they do not have the opportunity to, they will look elsewhere.

  • Publish and share opportunities, update them regularly
  • Monitor if they take up any of those opportunities
  • If they don’t, check in, find out why

3. Show them some love

Have you ever opened the door for someone and they didn’t say thank you. Well imagine offering up your precious free time and getting no thanks. It really is as simple as telling them.

  • Offer personalised thanks - Yes you send a group email once a year… but is that enough? Jump on the phone or drop them a personalised email
  • Use your social media - Your social media channels are free… share a quick bio of them, tag them. They may share and who knows, they may bring a few more volunteers your way
  • Blog on your website - Interview them and share their story, this has the added benefit of attracting others

4. Build a network

Humans crave a feeling of belonging, being part of a group #squadgoals (sorry this is what the kids are saying these days). You are far less likely to stop volunteering if a bunch of your new like minded pals are volunteering. Time to build that network…

  • Connect volunteers - There are a myriad of systems to do this but it can be as simple as a group chat or forum. Allow them to chat with each other.
  • Social media group - Create groups for your programs, add volunteers and let them interact and share
  • Setup a volunteer buddy system - Match volunteers up, if one wants to quit, the other might just keep them from doing so

5. Ask for feedback… and really listen

You will lose volunteers, it is part of life. Do not see this as a negative, turn it into a learning exercise.

  • Ask for feedback regularly
  • Monitor your volunteer wellbeing
  • Ask your volunteers how you can do better
  • Take everything you learn and turn it into positive action

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