Keeping volunteers engaged and dedicated to a program

It takes a great deal of time and resources to recruit and train a volunteer. How can you keep great volunteers once you find them?

Today’s volunteers have a multitude of options to choose from when selecting an organization to share their time and talent. Most volunteer managers spend a great deal of time recruiting, screening, training and placing volunteers in meaningful roles in their agency. Once placed, these volunteers will gain additional skills and become even more valuable to the program over time. So, how can you retain effective volunteers and grow your program?

Michigan State University Extension believes volunteer retention starts with your first contact with a potential volunteer and continues throughout their service. Here are some tips to help you keep your volunteers engaged and dedicated to your program.

During recruitment:

  • Share the expectations, challenges and benefits of the position. This is one of the first steps in weeding out those who are not a good fit for the program.

During screening:

  • Take time to get to know the volunteer. Not only with this help the volunteer feel more connected to the program, but it will also help you place the volunteer in a position where they are most likely to succeed.
  • Take note of any interests and skills the volunteer has and determine how those might be used in the future. Many volunteers can be engaged in multiple ways and will like to have options in the future.

During training:

  • Provide skills-based training that is valuable to the volunteer and directly related to his or her role.

When placing:

  • Provide a few options for the volunteer if possible.
  • It is often better to postpone placement than it is to place a volunteer in a position that is not a good fit. Communicate with the volunteer and make this decision together.

Ongoing:

  • Say thank you in meaningful ways. Don’t wait until an annual banquet to show your appreciation. Send a card, make a phone call or give the volunteer a shout-out on your program social media pages or newsletter.
  • Check in and listen. If you wait for a volunteer to come to you with a problem, it might be too late.
  • Provide opportunities for increased responsibility if desired.
  • Share annual reports and help volunteers see the impact they are having.

Volunteer retention requires building a relationship with your volunteers and understanding and responding to their motivations and needs. Each volunteer is unique and will require something a little different. It is worth the time – it takes much less time and effort to retain a great volunteer than it does to recruit, screen, train and place a new volunteer. 

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