Five essential steps to boosting volunteer retention – part one

1) Five essential steps to boosting volunteer retention – part onePhoto:

Holding on to volunteers in any organisation, especially one without a dedicated volunteer manager, can be really hard work.

In fact, there’s a chance that the person charged with looking after volunteers in your organisation may be a volunteer themselves!

With so many competing priorities and distractions in people’s lives, if you want to make sure your volunteers stick around you’re going to need a clear plan to keep them motivated.

Below are the first three of five essential elements of a well-planned volunteer program that will help to retain your volunteers long after recruitment.

1. Orientation creates belonging and purpose

Orientating a new volunteer to their role is essential in providing a sense of belonging that will motivate them to stay involved beyond that initial burst of enthusiasm.

Orientation can be done in a group setting or one-on-one with a new recruit and could include:

  • History: When your organisation was established and the story of how you’ve grown;
  • Aims: Why does your organisation exist? Consider introducing volunteers to your mission statement and to the key elements of your strategic plan;
  • Funding: Are you reliant on donations or grants or government funding or social enterprise?
  • Staffing: Introduce them to as many people as possible, especially your CEO or General Manager. Being introduced to senior staff shows volunteers that they’re valued by staff at all levels;
  • Service users: Who do you help? What are they like and what can your volunteers expect when interacting with them?
  • Structure: Explain where volunteers fit within the organisation, and how important they are to your mission.

This information could be provided in writing as part of an induction pack, but given that many volunteers may only skim written materials – at best – make sure that you talk about key points face-to-face as well.

2. Training helps volunteers learn and grow into a job

Most volunteers will expect some training, either before they begin, or on-the-job. Depending on the person and the role, this might involve teaching them new skills or techniques, or showing them the processes your organisation has developed for the work they will be doing.

Initial and on-going training will help your volunteers to build skills and confidence in the role. It will also give your volunteers an opportunity to ask questions, express their needs or worries, develop confidence, help them to grow on the job and get a clear appreciation of what is expected of them and how their role contributes to the success of the organisation.

Creating an initial program does require a lot of planning but the value, sense of purpose and belonging that it provides is worth it in the long run. Think about using a few different training delivery methods like:

  • Formal talks by specialists
  • Informal discussions
  • Workshops
  • Guest speakers
  • Demonstrations
  • Role plays
  • Group exercises
  • Audio-visual material

3. Supervision provides support and ongoing feedback

Good supervision creates an encouraging environment where everyone feels supported and has a manager who understands their needs.

Good supervision should involve:

  • Planning and rostering – make sure that you know when volunteers are available and can plan accordingly;
  • Check in meetings or telephone contact with volunteers to see how things are going;
  • Checking a volunteer’s work to make sure that it’s up to standard and catching any issues early;
  • Supporting, coaching and training;
  • Handling problems that may arise;
  • Observing volunteers in action and helping them to improve their work;
  • Assigning jobs when they run out of things to do;
  • Record keeping.

There are also some legal and technical obligations of a volunteer manager that should be dealt with during supervision, including:

  • Occupational health & safety: Just like paid staff, volunteers have the right to a safe working environment and to have access to the resources they need to do their job safely. Keep an eye on volunteers’ work environments and practices when you’re supervising.
  • Reimbursement: Volunteers should be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses. During orientation make it clear how to claim expenses and make sure this is happening during supervision.
  • Equal opportunity and anti-discrimination: Your organisation should have policies for equal opportunity and anti discrimination that are explained during orientation, and apply to volunteers.
  • Conflict management: Again, policies and procedures should be in place, but it’s when you’re supervising volunteers that issues of conflict may arise. Make sure that channels of communication are clear and open, so volunteers feel comfortable raising any conflicts with staff or other volunteers during supervision. Make a point of asking volunteers about this.
  • Budget for it: Budget time and money to ensure that your volunteers are adequately supervised. They will reward you for this by coming back to volunteer again and again.

Read part 2 of this post for the final two steps: evaluating your volunteers and volunteer program, and how to motivate your volunteers via reward and recognition.

Are you a volunteer manager? We’d love to here about the things that you do to retain volunteers in your organisation

This blog is based on the Retaining Volunteers fact sheet from The Centre for Volunteering.

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