Here's how you boost your long-term volunteer retention

Are you struggling to retain your volunteers? We investigated how to boost this retention!

Here's how you boost your long-term volunteer retention

Employee engagement and satisfaction are very important for employers. Not surprising then, that many hours of research have been devoted to these topics. How convenient for our volunteer organisations! You see, many of the resulting insights can be applied to volunteers and volunteer retention as well. After all, there is more than just a passing similarity between employees and volunteers. Motivation and satisfaction are crucial factors for both groups to stay involved in an organisation for an extended period of time. Of course, there are also many differences. Remuneration is an obvious one. The long-term involvement of volunteers is rewarded with little to no financial compensation.

When talking to non-profit organisations that partner with Deedmob, they often report the same issue: they struggle with retaining their volunteers in the long run. In fact, there is a remarkable drop-out point after only a couple of weeks.

In this article, we explore the science behind a volunteer's intention to stay on with an organisation. We also share some best practices to help your organisation boost its volunteer retention rate.  

What the science says...

Luckily, there is also quite some research specifically devoted to volunteer retention. According to Chacón, Vecina & Dávila (2007), the best predictor for the duration of a volunteer’s career at an organisation, is their intention to stay on. And there are three main variables that influence that intention at the various stages of a volunteer's lifecycle.

Variable 1 - Overall satisfaction (the volunteer’s satisfaction with the task, management of the volunteer and their own efficacy): How closely does the volunteer's experience meet their initial expectations? Meeting or exceeding volunteer expectations will motivate volunteers not to abandon the activity, despite costs such as time, burnout, and money gradually becoming more apparent.

Variable 2 - Organisational commitment: Medium-term involvement requires a strong sense of identification with the goals and values of a particular non-profit organisation. In many cases, it can make up for temporary decreases in satisfaction and motivate the volunteer to keep going.

Variable 3 - Role identity: Finally, the degree to which someone considers their role as a volunteer a part of their self-concept acts as an important predictor of sustained volunteerism.

Satisfaction, organisational commitment and role identity all influence one another as well. While all three factors affect the volunteer’s intention to stay, it is clear that satisfaction is most important for the intention to stay for a short period (6 months), organisational commitment is most vital for the intention to stay on for a medium term (12 months), and role identity weighs the most for the intention to stay in the long run (24 months).

Get them hooked from the start

Of course, as a non-profit, you know what your organisation cares about. You’re intimately acquainted with the problem you’re trying to solve. But how do you get new volunteers to help you solve it? And how will you make them stay? The answers to these questions may not be as straightforward as you think. 

We surveyed volunteers in Deedmob's own database and found that over 90% of the respondents mentions team spirit and community feeling as the most rewarding factors during an activity. Perhaps the respondents hadn’t accounted for their interactions with other volunteers and organisation members when building their expectations, leading to greater overall satisfaction.

Let’s turn to the above research to find new, science-based ways to increase volunteer satisfaction. How can we increase a volunteer’s satisfaction? Begin by focusing on the nature of the task at hand. Ask yourself if it is too difficult, too easy, or simply not engaging. Remember, be thorough and critical here, because that’s what your volunteer will be as well – consciously or subconsciously.

You can try to compensate for any unavoidable dips in task satisfaction by focusing on impeccable management and guidance. Finally, make sure to facilitate meaningful interactions between fellow volunteers, to make the overall experience just that bit more special.

Here are some best practices we've collected and want to share:

  • Organise Doors Open Days to offer prospective volunteers a low-commitment opportunity to get to know your organisation and the faces behind it.
  • Make sure that teamwork is a major part of volunteer activities and tasks.
  • Strive for excellent communication and expectation management before, during and after the activity. Top tip: ask yourself if your description of the activity or task in a vacancy announcement matches reality.
  • Allow for bonding moments between fellow volunteers and charity coordinators. Take time in the day for a communal team lunch, introduction round, short game, or afternoon tea session.
  • Use social media to stay in touch with volunteers, by inviting them to like/follow your page.

Keep spreading the love

Once an individual starts volunteering for your organisation, it is essential to keep nurturing your new relationship with them. Beyond initial satisfaction with the activity, volunteers need to start experiencing commitment to your cause, values and goals. This will increase the likelihood of long-term involvement.

You can try to confirm and reinforce organisational commitment by frequently expressing or even discussing your goals and values. Of course, you need to strike a balance here. You’re not looking to organise study nights on the organisation’s rules and dogmas! But you can, for example, think of a non-committal online or offline message board with announcements of events, festivals, films, likeminded organisations, etc. that align with your organisation’s values.

Such a medium may easily lead to spontaneous, informal conversations during which you can uncover to what extent your organisation’s values align with those of some of your volunteers. In a similar vein, a part of a team event may also be dedicated to value sharing. Perhaps a certain game or activity can be used to underline your organisation’s values for the participants. Please keep it light and playful, as no one longs for some type of Stalinist thought police!

Just like employees, volunteers want to feel that their work is meaningful. But how do you achieve this? By letting them know how they’ve made a positive difference for your organisation.

Acknowledge and celebrate

Boost your volunteer’s role identity by acknowledging and rewarding their contributions. Similar to many companies, you can share and celebrate a volunteer’s excellent performance with their peers. Share achievements in writing and send emails to all organisation members.

Organise a competition for designing a cool T-shirt for your organisation. Obviously, the next step is to have it printed and distributed among all members and contributors. Organise a team weekend! Bond, bond, bond, to reinforce that role identity.

To acknowledge individual contributions, ask yourself:

  • Has this volunteer made someone smile?
  • Did they reduce the organisation's costs or increase overall productivity?
  • Have they contributed, in any way, to the expansion and growth of the organisation to other regions?

It's your turn to let volunteers know you value their commitment! Here are a few suggestions to make them feel appreciated:

  • Delight them with 'thank you' notes.
  • Put the volunteer of the month in the spotlight with a social media shout-out.
  • Let volunteers know exactly how they've helped your organisation become better.
  • Get their creative juices flowing and involve them in future planning and strategy.

Working with volunteers requires valuable time and resources from your organisation. These insights and tips will help you get a better ROI on those investments. By getting into the mind of the volunteer and asking the right questions, you'll soon find out what drives them to stay involved in your organisation.

We use all these findings and expertise to re-imagine the way in which organisations leverage the power of volunteers. Curious about our product? Head over to www.deedmob.com.

Gerbrand Holland

Growth Manager

Gerbrand Holland is Growth Manager at Deedmob