How to Recruit and Retain Volunteers For Your Nonprofit

Retain Volunteers

One of the biggest challenges in operating a successful nonprofit involves volunteer management and retention. Here’s how you can improve volunteer retention within your own charitable organization. 

Although most nonprofits don’t bother to track their volunteer turnover rates, it’s pretty widely accepted that volunteer recruitment and retention is one of the biggest challenges in the nonprofit space. Most people, when they donate their time, aren’t there for the long haul. You’re always going to encounter people who aren’t interested in a long-term volunteer spot. 

Experienced volunteers are extremely valuable. And there are people who, if they like working with an organization and believe in its cause, will return year after year. If your nonprofit doesn’t seem to be attracting any such individuals, there’s a problem.

It means you’re losing volunteers your first step is to figure out why. Only then can you do something about it.

Make Sure You’re Organised

Few things are more frustrating than being part of an organization that has no idea what it’s doing. And I’ve seen many nonprofits that are founded on little more than a vague desire to change the world. Certainly, they have a cause in mind – they know what they’re raising money for, and they generally understand why. 

But they’re fuzzy on the how. They lack concrete goals and clear frameworks. They lack the capacity to effectively communicate their values and ideals with volunteers – or even to handle basic things like scheduling. 

You cannot change the world if your organization is disorganized. You need clear milestones, you need a chain of command, and you need to equip staff and volunteers with the tools they need to do their jobs. 

Re-Examine How You Treat Your Volunteers

What sort of training and onboarding process do you offer? Do you regularly communicate with your volunteers and hold them accountable for their actions? Do you make exceptional volunteers feel appreciated for their contributions? 

At the end of the day, a good nonprofit treats its volunteers the same as a good business treats its employees. It’s not enough for your volunteers to know they’re putting their time towards a good cause. They have to feel like they’re part of a team. They need to feel valued and accepted.

Thank your hardest-working volunteers for putting in so much time. Discipline volunteers who don’t properly pull their weight – who show up late or don’t make an effort to contribute to your events. Work closely with your best volunteers, and invest the time to help them grow. 

Take a Look At Your Leadership

A good leader can motivate people to do incredible things. They’re a joy to work with, and constantly push the people around them to be better than they thought they could be. Consequently, a bad (or even mediocre) leader can have the opposite effect.

In the same way that poor leadership in the for-profit sector can cause people to feel unappreciated, underutilized, and frustrated with their work, a lack of leadership in a non-profit can make volunteer retention an uphill battle. But how exactly does one define leadership in the context of a charitable organization? What’s the difference between a good leader and a bad one? 

It all comes down to how much they care. 

  • A good leader cares about their volunteers and staff. They encourage proper self-care, recognize when someone is getting burnt out, and make an effort to know and understand the people working under them.
  • A good leader cares about the mission. They have a personal stake in your organization’s cause and a great deal of passion for seeing it through. 
  • A good leader cares about excellence. They’re not just passionate about changing the world, but also about changing themselves. They lead by example, always trying to improve. 

Nonprofit leaders must adapt to change and use external shifts to keep moving their nonprofit organization forward. For example, during the current COVID-19 pandemic, there are people who are unemployed who would be eager to volunteer for a good cause. There are also people who are not in the position to give financially but would want to give their time. A simple calling campaign where volunteers reach out to other members of the organization goes a long way for keeping up morale and connections. 

Volunteer Retention Doesn’t Need To Be Impossible

Your nonprofit won’t be able to retain every single volunteer. There will always be people who are just there for a short stint. But there will also be people who want to stick with your organization for the long haul.

And until you can recognize, nurture, and enable those men and women, your nonprofit will continue to struggle with recruitment and retention. 

About the Author:

Brad Wayland is the Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton, a site with high-quality, easy-to-design custom t-shirts.

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