4 Ways to Retain Your Nonprofit’s Volunteers

by Danielle Bloom

2 min read

Volunteers are the lifeblood of your nonprofit organization. Since many nonprofits operate with minimal staff, volunteers provide the manpower to carry off large-scale events. Recruiting is only one piece of the puzzle; once you have volunteers on board, it’s important to keep them coming back for more. By focusing on retention, your organization can save money on training hours and create a consistent experience for patrons.

Communicate Your Purpose

Many volunteers are drawn to nonprofits because they have a personal connection to a group’s mission and purpose. Your organization can strengthen that emotional attachment and build a loyal, inspired volunteer base with consistent, compelling communication that reinforces your central purpose. Each email, social media post and direct-mail piece should remind volunteers of your mission. Personal stories are a particularly powerful way to show volunteers how their efforts impact people in need. Statements such as, “Thanks to the time you spent serving our holiday dinner, 52 local seniors were not alone on Christmas” and “Thanks to your winterization help, the three Smith children are enjoying a warm home in this cold snap” reassure volunteers that they have made a difference.

Be Organized

Retaining volunteers depends heavily on organization. A well-oiled process helps everyone get right to work and reduces the burden on your already busy staff. Before volunteers show up, it’s crucial to nail down the four Ws: when to arrive, where to go, who to speak to, and what to do. If you have access to experienced volunteers, consider using them as point people to handle training and take questions. Although it can feel greedy to use volunteers’ unique expertise, doing so can actually improve retention; according to a 2010 Statistics Canada survey, 78% of volunteers want to use their skills during an assignment. An efficient process, clear objectives, and a well-organized schedule create a sense of professionalism and let volunteers know that you respect their time.

Thank Volunteers Frequently

When it comes to keeping volunteers, a little gratitude can go a long way. Frequent, heartfelt thanks shows each person that you appreciate their labor and sacrifice. The key is to be genuine; when staff members take a moment during a busy event to look a volunteer in the eye and express their appreciation, it creates a lasting impression. Staff can build strong personal connections by using specific observations, such as “Thank you for making our guests feel so welcome as they arrived. You set a wonderful tone for the evening!”

Provide Special Perks

Most volunteers donate their time without expecting anything in return, so small treats can build goodwill. Homemade snacks and live entertainment instantly make a work session more fun, and free event tickets are a fun reward for planning or setup volunteers. Reach out to local businesses to request donated gift cards, meals, or memberships to use as volunteer rewards. Mix things up by pooling resources with other nonprofits. A community theater group might offer free show tickets to your volunteers in return for access to your facilities, for example. A thoughtful, efficient volunteering process eases stress on your staff and gives your volunteers the tools they need to hit the ground running. By putting in the effort up front to organize each event and arrange special perks, you can create a streamlined, enjoyable experience that keeps volunteers coming back for more.

References & Resources

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