Keeping the best and the brightest volunteers around can be a difficult proposition for many nonprofits. To be able to maximize the benefits volunteers bring, it is critical to keep them coming in over the long haul. By maintaining a loyal volunteer base, not only will your nonprofit get more done for less, but it will also create greater community involvement and increase your organization’s overall visibility in a number of important ways. However, in many cases, nonprofits will invest hours to recruit and train volunteers only to see them leave shortly thereafter. To prevent that from happening, here are five simple but important steps you can take to keep your volunteers engaged and happy to return.
(1) Tap into Rationale
Don't assume all volunteers just want to help your cause. No doubt most have good intentions and believe in your nonprofit’s mission, but they also have other reasons for volunteering. Maybe they would like to meet new people, develop other skills or perhaps they want to feel needed. So, if you give them uninspiring things to do – like standing over a copy machine for extended hours – chances are it won’t fulfill any of their aspirations.
Ask volunteers right from the start, what they hope to get from their experience and look for ways to give them that. If a volunteer hopes to apply photography skills in a role, assign them work on taking pictures for a newsletter, website or annual report. In cases where there are regular volunteers, overlap schedules, so they can converse with one another.
(2) Make Clear What You Expect
Begin by giving each volunteer some formal training. Provide an explanation of your organization and its work as well as how the volunteer will fit in. Discuss your expectations and the work to be done as well as more interesting work they can be assigned once they prove themselves. You might consider creating a volunteer manual outlining expectations, hours of work, your commitment to making their experience worthwhile, plus basic office policies like personal use of computers and phones.
Always be willing to give feedback on how your volunteers are performing, especially if they are trying to develop certain job skills. Make it clear from the onset, that now and then you will sit down to review performance and that the volunteer will then have an opportunity to share their thoughts on their experience and what could make it more enjoyable.
(3) Make it Convenient to Volunteer
Most nonprofits prefer volunteers work a certain number of hours each week or month. Creating some alternatives can be a real benefit, especially for those volunteers who may have spare time, but not at the same time each week.
At some nonprofits, volunteers are asked to make a certain commitment of hours and then have to call and verify when they can actually work those hours. There are also organizations who only recruit heavily for a one-time event or ask help with limited projects.
(4) Try to Make Volunteering Fun
No one is saying that you have to have a party atmosphere, but you should recognize that some tasks are just more fun than others. For instance, if your nonprofit works with kids or animals, chances are pretty good that many of your volunteers would hope to have some interaction with them.
Depending on the work you do will determine how you can make use of unskilled help. However, try and be innovative in finding things for your volunteers to do. For example, a nonprofit that works with young girls from low income homes to prepare them for college, had student volunteers come in and talk about their experiences in college. This provided a unique opportunity for the volunteers who weren’t stepping into a staff role but instead were helping out the staff while creating a nice uplifting feeling for the program.
(5) Show Your Appreciation
Each volunteer would like to feel they’re doing their part, making a difference and advancing the cause. It's up to you to see that they know this. Don’t be shy about saying thank you early and often. You can also thank them by organizing volunteer appreciation activities, giving speeches at events, parties or an annual dinner. You can even invite them to other organization events and dole out awards to show your gratitude for all their help.
By following these simple guidelines and engaging your volunteers, you’ll likely retain more of your core recruits, all of which will allow your organization to grow and carry out its mission more efficiently and effectively. It will also help your nonprofit increase visibility and create a lasting presence in the community.