Five essential steps to boosting volunteer retention – part two


This is the second and final part of our post on how to boost your volunteer staff retention. You can view part one here.

Holding on to good volunteers can be challenging at the best of times – but if you’re involved with managing volunteers in your organisation, you know how valuable it can be if you get it right.

In part one of this post we looked at the importance of good volunteer onboarding to keep people engaged – orientation, ongoing training opportunities and great supervision.

In this post we’ll explore the final two essential elements of volunteer retention – evaluation and motivation.

 4. Evaluation

The better your volunteer program is, the more likely volunteers are to stick around in the long term – so understanding what is working and what isn’t is crucial.

Evaluating volunteering in your organisation includes two main areas: Evaluating the program and evaluating the volunteers.

Evaluating the program:

This is about finding out whether your program is meeting its objectives.

To measure this look at both quantitative data – like the number of tasks performed, clients served or the number of volunteers participating – as well as qualitative data, like the satisfaction levels of clients, staff and volunteers.

A quick Google search will bring up a wealth of program and volunteer management templates that you can adapt, or your organisation may already have templates that it uses for paid staff.

To get you started, take a look at Volunteering Victoria’s Volunteer Management Toolkit, which includes a volunteer satisfaction survey, and Volunteering Queensland’s program evaluation tool.

Evaluating volunteers:

Just like appraising staff, a formal review process with volunteers is an opportunity for managers to receive feedback, and of course to provide feedback to the volunteers themselves.

A good appraisal process should:

  • Demonstrate to the volunteer that you value their contribution;
  • Discuss the work that the volunteer is currently doing.
  • Provide a way of monitoring their satisfaction levels and motivations and make sure their needs are being met;
  • Assess if the volunteer is receiving enough/the right support from their supervisor or manager;
  • Find out what your volunteers’ aspirations and plans are for the future.

As much as possible, it’s important to take action on any issues that arise in the review process, which will help to ensure your volunteers feel truly valued.

Again, there are many tools available online to assist you with this process, including this great volunteer management evaluation tool from Volunteering Queensland. You may also want to consider adapting your organisation’s staff appraisal program for volunteers so that you have consistent and comparable data.

5. Motivating volunteers

Keeping a volunteer motivated to stay in their role is about meeting their needs as equally as they meet the organisation’s needs through their work.

While the image of volunteering can be that of a totally selfless act, all volunteers want something from the experience.

The evaluation process is a great opportunity to find out what your volunteers’ motivations are – from wanting to meet new people, gain confidence, gain work experience or just wanting to give back – to see if you’re meeting them.

Remember, these may change over time and will be different for each volunteer, so a one-size-fits-all approach for motivating your volunteers is unlikely to work.

Some ways that you can help to motivate volunteers include:

  • Being enthusiastic yourself and encouraging achievement;
  • Ensuring volunteers know the job and why it’s important to the organisation and its mission;
  • Accepting the individual’s potential and limitations;
  • Providing a thorough orientation to the organisation;
  • Providing training to do the task, and ongoing education to learn new skills and stay challenged;
  • Providing a sense of progress or impact to the volunteer, so they can see what has been achieved through their work.

Acknowledging your volunteers regularly – either formally or informally – is also crucial to keeping people motivated. No matter how humble volunteers are, everyone wants to know they are doing a good job.

Some ideas for acknowledgement include:

  • Expressing appreciation and complimenting volunteers on work well done and goals achieved;
  • Ensuring volunteers are treated as equal members of the team; and
  • Holding official recognition events like awards evenings or social events, or providing volunteers with pins, certificates of appreciation or service and thank you notes.

But those are just for starters – there are lots of ideas online, including this great list of 101 ideas for volunteer recognition from Volunteering Australia.

Are you involved with managing volunteers? We’d love to hear what you think of these suggestions, and about the things you do to retain volunteers in your organisation in the comments below.

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

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