Volunteer coordinators commonly ask the question, “How do we make our volunteers stay?”

We offered answers to that question in a previous blog post, but thought it would be good to follow up with the question that a lot of volunteer coordinators don’t ask: “What are we doing to make our volunteers go away?”


Answering this question can be uncomfortable, but it is useful for any organization to consider if it wants to retain volunteers.  We researched the topic, and found that the reasons most cited for volunteers leaving all stem from one prime reason: poor leadership.  Interesting, right?  We thought so, too.  Let’s discuss…


Leadership is ineffective.

Just like paid staff, volunteers want to serve under an effective leader.  That means that someone on your staff is paid to run the training, protocol, and overall management of volunteers in a professional, orderly way. Volunteers can be easily turned off by unclear guidelines, disorganized (or too much) paperwork, and random announcements and communication.  One article suggests that a volunteer coordinator should function similar to a Human Resources professional, in that his or her work should be focused on implementing clear systems and effective training.


Training is disorganized or non-existent.

If a volunteer is put through rushed or on-the-job training, he or she might head for the hills right away.  Formal, organized training is essential for retaining volunteers, as it accomplishes three objectives. First, it explains the organization’s mission. Volunteers need to understand how they fit into the bigger picture.  Secondly, it clearly communicates duties. Volunteers need to feel equipped, able, and confident in action. Follow-up training is a great way to ensure that this continues.  Finally, it helps the volunteer coordinator get to know the skills and talents that their volunteers bring. Retaining volunteers is made easier when they are purposefully placed according to their assets.


Communication is inadequate.

In an earlier blog post about volunteer retention, we described the importance of communication in retaining volunteers. Communicating job descriptions, appreciation, and announcements is a crucial part of keeping volunteers in the loop and maintaining smooth operations.  But, did you know that communicating performance evaluation even for volunteers is also important?  Volunteers want to feel effective, so take opportunities to communicate to them how they’re performing and if there’s an area where they need to improve. Also, use it as an opportunity to get feedback from them and assess whether they would be suited for a new challenge in your organization. This is where your volunteer coordinator’s extraordinary leadership skills could be put to good use.


Volunteer engagement is important. Learn more about the importance of effectively engaging your volunteers by hearing what our CEO, Ben Reno-Weber, has to say by following the link to the webinar below!


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Organization’s appearance and equipment are poor.

Although we’re told not to judge a book by its cover, a quick way to turn off volunteers is by making your “cover” (i.e., your office or building) look disorganized.  Make sure the entrance to your office is warm and welcoming, and that any visible desks or workstations are kept tidy. Teetering towers of supplies or stacks of papers might make volunteers think that things aren’t run efficiently.  Plus, malfunctioning equipment – from staplers to computers – can annoy volunteers enough to make them quit.  Ensuring quality of appearance and equipment will help your volunteers know that you run a well-oiled machine.


Work isn’t challenging.

Volunteers come to you with a desire to engage and to be engaged.  Just as you develop your paid staff’s skills through training, new or advanced responsibilities, or special projects, so should you do with volunteers.  Think of your volunteers as talent, and understand that they bring you passion, intellect, and creativity.  Learn what makes your volunteers tick, and assign them to places in your organization where they can be stimulated and feel a sense of ownership over their work.


Reflecting on these tips, as well as tips to make volunteers stay, one thing is for certain: when it comes to retaining volunteers, success depends largely on cultivating an organized environment that effectively utilizes and appreciates volunteers.  Recognizing this is a first step toward being the organization that maximizes volunteer impact and leads the way for the rest.

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