Over and over and over again I hear leaders of volunteers worry about volunteer retention. There is a huge level of frustration around volunteers signing on, then leaving after a short time. The leaders do their best to make the environment friendly and welcoming; to ensure that the volunteers get satisfaction out of their work; to show their appreciation. And the volunteers leave anyway.
Maybe it’s not really a problem after all.
Why is volunteer retention so important anyway? When I talk to people about this, the reason that is almost invariably given is the time saved in recruiting and training. There are a few other reasons: loss of knowledge, lack of people to move into higher level positions, and the frustration of staff making the effort to build a relationship with volunteers who leave anyway. Mostly, though, it’s about our time.
Certainly, we do need some volunteers who are committed long term, but all of them? Or even most?
As one person commented: “We had to stop seeing volunteers leaving as inherently bad, and start separating out life situations and leaving because something was not meeting their expectations.” In other words, so long as you are doing everything you can to engage and appreciate your volunteers, don’t stress if some of them leave anyway.
There are ways to lessen the impact that short volunteer retention has on our time.
Many things can be automated. Let’s look at the tasks involved in recruiting: creating job descriptions, posting, contacting applicants for interviews, interviewing applicants, selecting and informing chosen volunteers.
If you want to do it well, creating job descriptions does take a while. However, it shouldn’t be an ongoing task. Set aside time to get them all done, then review them annually for any updates. Whether you need to recruit a handful of volunteers, or hundreds of them, this task will take the same amount of time.
Use automation to post openings. On your website, have a button where interested people can click to see openings. You enter updates on your website; automation takes care of posting the link to your social media pages.
Automation can also take care of contacting the applicants and setting up interview times. When an application is sent in, an automated email is sent to them with a link to your calendar and instructions on how to book a time. Many programs will even send reminder emails!
Interviews, obviously, can’t be automated, but they can be designed to take less time. Be clear in your mind what you need to know about applicants for each role and list questions that will give you that information. Online interviews tend to take less time than in-person ones, and if their camera is on you can still get the subtle clues that you need to make a good decision.
After the interview, send a generic email with next steps – police check (with links), orientation, etc.
And you’re done. From spending a few hours recruiting for each position, you have whittled it down to about half an hour.
What about training?
Training is even easier than recruiting to automate. Have your training done by video. Fast, easy and on-tap! Again, it takes time to set up, but once done it only needs to be reviewed and updated once a year or so. The time is the same no matter how many volunteers you need to train.
Provide your new recruits with links to the videos that train them for their particular roles. There are a couple of benefits to this. The videos are easy to review if a volunteer forgets something or if they need to be retrained on a regular basis; the training will be consistent; and it saves you a ton of time!
Worried that they won’t watch the videos? Have a quiz at the end that checks their knowledge, with the results sent to you automatically. Concerned about training for “hands-on” types of work? After the videos train them in the theory, have the volunteer job shadow a more experienced volunteer to learn the practical side of things.
We will always appreciate having long-term volunteers.
That said, there is little reason (or point!) in becoming frustrated and stressed about volunteer retention. So long as you do what you can to make them feel engaged and appreciated, and you set things up carefully ahead of time, a regular influx of new volunteers will come to be seen, rather than a drain on resources, as a way of bringing in new ideas and enthusiasm to your organization.