Volunteer Retention: The What, Why, and How
Are you always in volunteer recruitment mode? If so, it may be time to focus on your nonprofit’s volunteer retention efforts.
What is volunteer retention?
Volunteer retention refers to the ability of an organization to keep its volunteers engaged and committed over time. Some effective strategies for improving volunteer retention can include providing clear expectations and responsibilities (read job description), offering opportunities for growth and development, recognizing and appreciating volunteers’ contributions, and fostering a supportive and inclusive culture. Additionally, regular communication and feedback can help maintain volunteers’ sense of connection to the organization and their motivation to continue their involvement.
Why does volunteer retention matter?
Focusing on retaining volunteers is important for several reasons:
- Sustainability: Retaining volunteers helps ensure the sustainability of your nonprofit and programs. High turnover rates can create a need for constant recruitment and training, which can be time-consuming and costly.
- Cost-effectiveness: Retaining volunteers is often more cost-effective than constantly seeking new ones. The cost of recruitment, training and onboarding new volunteers can be substantial, so keeping existing volunteers engaged and committed can help reduce these costs. (Pssst: POINT helps you save time and money on volunteer recruitment)
- Continuity: Long-serving volunteers can bring stability and continuity, helping to maintain programs and services over time.
- Knowledge and skills: Experienced volunteers bring valuable knowledge, skills, and perspectives. By retaining them, you can build a stronger pool of resources and expertise.
- Positive impact: Maintaining a high level of volunteer engagement can positively impact the community served by your nonprofit, as volunteers can make a deeper and more lasting contribution to its programs and services.
How to retain volunteers
Before you start working on volunteer retention, it is important to understand where you currently are. Measuring volunteer retention helps evaluate the success of retention efforts and identify areas for improvement. By understanding volunteer retention rates, you can make informed decisions about how to allocate resources such as time and funding for recruitment, training, and engagement efforts. Measuring volunteer retention enables your nonprofit to set specific, measurable goals for improvement and track progress over time.
With regular measurement and evaluation of volunteer retention rates, your nonprofit can also identify trends and patterns and continuously improve strategies. Having a measurement process in place also provides data and evidence to support decision-making and demonstrate the impact of volunteer retention efforts to stakeholders such as leadership, funders, supporters, and the community. In a nutshell, measuring volunteer retention is important for your nonprofit to evaluate the effectiveness of its programs, make informed decisions, and continuously improve its efforts to retain volunteers.
How to measure your volunteer retention:
- Retention rate: The percentage of volunteers who continue to be active after a set period of time, Such as one year. For example, if 100 volunteers start in a year and 80 of them are still signing up for volunteer opportunities a year later, your retention rate is 80%.
- POINTer: When you sign up for a free POINT volunteer management account, you can automatically track how many of your volunteers are active!
- Time served: The average length of time a volunteer has been with an organization can be used as a measure of retention. This provides insight into the average commitment level of volunteers and can be used to identify trends over time.
- Repeat volunteers: Tracking the number of volunteers who volunteer more than once, or who return after taking a break, can provide a measure of volunteer satisfaction and likelihood to continue involvement.
- Exit surveys: Conducting exit surveys with departing volunteers can provide valuable feedback on why they are leaving, and what your organization can improve on.
- Feedback and engagement: Regularly checking in with volunteers to gauge their level of engagement and satisfaction can provide an early warning of potential issues. And, this helps your nonprofit address them before it leads to attrition.
With a combination of these metrics, your nonprofit can gain a more comprehensive understanding of its volunteer retention rate and identify areas for improvement. Want to jump in and start focusing on your volunteer retention efforts?
Here are four questions you can look into now to get ahead of volunteer turnover.
- Are you giving clear expectations and responsibilities? Provide volunteers with clear expectations and responsibilities, and ensure they have the resources and support needed to fulfill their role effectively.
- Do you have job descriptions and/or clear descriptions of what volunteers will do?
- Do you give opportunities for growth and development? Offer volunteers opportunities for growth and development, such as training, leadership roles, and new experiences.
- Looking for cost-effective training? Check out the free training offered by Nonprofit Ready.
- What do you do to recognize and appreciate volunteers? Regularly recognize and appreciate volunteers to ensure they feel valued and supported.
- What is your volunteer recognition program like?
- Do you have a supportive culture? Foster a supportive and inclusive organizational culture that values and respects all volunteers, regardless of background, gender expression, and ethnicity. Encourage open communication and collaboration.
- If you are looking to diversify your volunteer pool, this is absolutely important to focus on. Check out our blog post about Diversifying Your Volunteer Pool to learn more.
Here are four things you can implement right now to improve volunteer retention:
- Regular communication and feedback: Regularly communicate with volunteers, check in with them, and provide feedback. This can help maintain their sense of connection to your nonprofit and their motivation to continue their involvement.
- What is your regular form of communication? Email? Slack?
- Flexible schedules: Offer flexible scheduling options to accommodate the needs of volunteers and make it easier for them to get involved.
- How do volunteers sign up for shifts or events? With POINT you can have easy volunteer signups and check-ins.
- Meaningful work: Assign volunteers tasks that are meaningful, relevant, and impactful and that align with their skills, interests, and goals.
- Have you asked your volunteers about their skills?
- Sense of belonging: You can help volunteers feel a sense of belonging and connection to the organization and its community by involving them in social and team-building activities.
- What is your recognition plan for volunteers?
By implementing these strategies, your nonprofit can improve volunteer retention, build stronger relationships with volunteers, and increase the impact and sustainability of programs and services.
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