A good volunteer is hard to find! And, as it turns out, they are even harder to keep. If you are connected with a nonprofit organization, you may have wrestled with how to improve your volunteer retention. You may have been discouraged in the past by a wave of volunteers followed by a sudden drop off. While it is true that some volunteers will always only participate once or twice, there are things you can do to improve nonprofit volunteer retention.
Benefits of volunteering
Volunteers aren’t getting paid, so you need to reinforce what they are getting out of their time and energy spent at your organization. They are much more likely to come back if they feel like they get something out of volunteering. Do your best to give volunteers jobs that they can see immediate results from.
Most volunteers will get a lot more out of a one-on-one experience like serving a meal to someone in need rather than cleaning restrooms. In situations where you need a volunteer behind the scenes, try to think of ways to get them connected. Take pictures of how their work affects others. Collect handwritten thank you notes from whoever their work affects. Get creative to show your volunteers how their work affects others (we have a handy list of volunteer appreciation ideas here).
Connecting with volunteers
Connect with your volunteers after they go home to ensure better retention. It is easy for volunteers to feel good about their first experience but then forget to come back. Reach out to your volunteers and let them know that they were appreciated and, more importantly, that they are still needed.
Use social media to reach Millennials
Social media is a wonderful (and free) way to raise awareness about your organization as well as connect with your volunteers. Keeping your volunteer base informed about what you are doing and what you need will greatly improve your chances of them returning. Social media does not need to take a lot of effort, either. Encourage all your volunteers to like and follow your page on all platforms. That way, they get an instant update on what your organization is doing and any needs you have.
As you navigate social media, understand that Millennials are very in tune to causes. Whether it is helping the homeless, protecting the environment or helping kids do their homework after school, Millennials are passionate about making a difference in the world. Show your social media audience the big picture on why you do what you do. By showing that your organization is truly helping people, you will gain the support of new volunteers. And by keeping existing volunteers up to date on your goals, they will want to keep helping you in the future.
Organization retains volunteers
It may sound simple but the best way to get more volunteers is to keep the ones you have. There is nothing less appealing than a volunteer feeling like their efforts were wasted due to a lack of organization. Every volunteer that comes through your doors should have a clear and effective task list. That will show them that they are needed and their work is valuable. Make sure your staff is prepared to guide volunteers and get them to work. Volunteers probably won’t come back if the staff seems clueless or disorganized.
Good communication goes both ways, so you need to be sure that you give your volunteers a way to give you feedback. You can use a paper method that they use when they come to volunteer or a digital version that they can use after they go home. Digital is probably better, especially for millennials, but having both types of feedback available is best.
Ask for feedback on how their experience as a volunteer was and how you could improve. Kill two birds with one stone by asking what their favorite thing about volunteering is on your social media pages. That way, you get feedback as well as spreading the word about your organization. They (especially millennials) will love to show their friends where and how they volunteer as well.
Show your appreciation
Telling your volunteers that you appreciate them is important, but it is even better to show them. Pictures, handwritten notes and other small gifts are a great way to show your appreciation. Sending holiday cards is also a good idea since it can remind them to come back.
If your volunteers don’t feel appreciated, then they may not be inclined to come back. Have staff in place to welcome them and guide them through their tasks. Make sure your staff are friendly, welcoming and appreciative towards volunteers. No one wants to feel like their work goes unnoticed, so make them feel like they are filling an important gap for your organization.