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Volunteer Retention Strategies: 7 Tips to Keep Your Volunteers

11 min read
October 08, 2020
Tim Sarrantonio headshot
Tim Sarrantonio
Director of Strategic Partnerships, Neon One

Volunteer retention strategies, like donor retention strategies, are an important way to keep your biggest supporters engaged. And yet, volunteer retention strategies are less commonly explored in nonprofit circles—so let’s change that! In this article, you’ll dig into some practical steps you can take to keep your volunteers excited about working with your organization.

Volunteer Retention Strategies are Easier With The Right Tools

The best way to prioritize volunteer retention is by using a good volunteer management software system. You’ll get a 360-degree view of your volunteers that you can use to track their interests, communications, and volunteer hours in a more efficient way.

But remember: Technology isn’t a silver bullet that will magically help you keep your volunteers engaged. Your technology should support the personal relationships your volunteers have with your staff and clients.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at some tips and strategies to incorporate into your organization’s volunteer retention efforts:

1. Keep Volunteer Retention In Mind From The Start

A popular adage says, “You never get a second chance at a first impression”—and that sentiment definitely applies to working with volunteers. It’s easy to start your relationship with a volunteer off on the wrong foot. 

One common mistake nonprofits make is talking too much about themselves without emphasizing the difference volunteers make to the organization’s work. Another is diving right into hands-on work without a volunteer onboarding and orientation process that connects volunteers to their organization and impact.

This is why you should focus on building a personal connection between your volunteer and your organization. Tell them how they’ll make a great impact on your community, and spend some time getting to know them! 

This is a great opportunity to learn more about your volunteers, understand their motivations, and set the stage for a great relationship with them. Here are some questions you can ask:

How did you hear about us?

This is an especially important question if you’re actively working to build a larger base of volunteers. If you notice a large influx of volunteers from one particular campaign, you can spend more time and effort on that channel.

What motivated you to get involved?

Understanding your volunteers’ motivations gives you the ability to deepen their relationship with your organization. When you work with them, reiterate how they’re making a difference in the causes or areas that inspired them to get involved in the first place.

What type of projects are you interested in?

Volunteers will be more likely to continue donating their time and skills when they’re doing work they enjoy. Asking this question will help you identify different volunteer opportunities that they’ll enjoy.

Do you have any special or technical skills?

After you get a feel for which projects they’re interested in, asking your volunteers what skills they can bring to your organization will help you find the perfect project for them. You’ll help them use their diverse skills to support projects they find enjoyable.

How do you prefer to be contacted?

Communication is key in any relationship, including volunteers. Knowing the best way to contact your supporter will make it as easy as possible to stay in touch with the invaluable group of supporters.

What resources do you need from us?

Your volunteers are donating their time, effort, and skills. They’re also probably donating their money; 76% of people who volunteer for an organization also donate!. Asking this question and getting your volunteers the resources they need will establish a reciprocal relationship between you two and make it more likely that they’ll stay involved long term.

2. Track Your Organization’s Volunteering Data

Do you already know your volunteer retention rate? What about where your volunteers heard about your organization? Or how many volunteers opened your last email?

After you get to know a little bit more about your volunteers and their interests, you’ll need a way to track those important metrics. You can use volunteer management software to do this or create your own system that works for your organization’s needs.

Tracking volunteer data will help you segment volunteers and communicate with them effectively. You should also store data like volunteering hours and communication stats, so you can identify your most engaged (and least engaged) volunteers.

Neon One Tip: In Neon CRM, users can create volunteer projects that are open to applications or they can create closed projects and assign existing volunteers to the task.

Learn More About Neon CRM

3. Provide Volunteers With Needed Resources

Even though volunteers are signing up to help your organization, they may need some resources or benefits from you in return. Understand your volunteers’ interests, skills, and what they need to do their job. Then, take steps to give them the tools and resources they need to support your work.

Here are some examples of volunteer resources you can provide:

  • Access to software or hardware they need while on site
  • Training on processes and procedures they’ll need to do their job well
  • Information they’ll need as they serve your community
  • Office supplies, craft materials, or other resources they need as they work on different projects

There are other, less practical resources you can provide, too. Even the most passionate volunteer may be looking to get something out of their relationship with you. Your volunteer may be looking for ways to:

  • Gain new skills or job experience
  • Make new connections and networking
  • College recommendation letters or job references
  • Fulfillment of volunteer hours for school or work

Understanding these intangible resources volunteers may want will help you build an even stronger relationship with each one. You’ll meet their material requirements, and you’ll also develop a reciprocal relationship that makes them feel good about the time and effort they donate to your organization.

If you understand a volunteer’s needs, you can offer them something in return that makes their experience more valuable—and keeps them coming back.

4. Leverage Volunteer Skills And Strengths

Another benefit of getting to know your volunteers is uncovering their hidden talents. For example, one of your volunteers may be a talented web designer—but, if they only help out at your events, your organization may be missing out on a huge opportunity to work with them in other ways.

Data shows that leveraging volunteer skillsets is one of the most important parts of volunteer retention. In a Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund survey, 44% of respondents said they would rather volunteer elsewhere instead of staying with an organization that doesn’t use their skills.

Make sure you put their valuable skills to work! And don’t be afraid to have volunteers team up to tackle big projects or learn from each other, either. If you have an ambitious volunteer looking to learn new skills, consider finding a more experienced volunteer with less time who might be able to mentor them. Be creative!

Which CRM is right for me? Take this 6-question quiz to get a customized list of CRM vendors that will best fit your nonprofit based on your budget, size, and functionality needs. Click on this image to take the quiz!
Which CRM is right for me? Take this 6-question quiz to get a customized list of CRM vendors that will best fit your nonprofit based on your budget, size, and functionality needs. Click on this image to take the quiz!

5. Follow Up and Stay In Touch

Your volunteer retention strategy should start when a volunteer begins working with you, but it shouldn’t end when their shift is over. In fact, that should be when you plan kicks into full gear! Here’s how you should follow up with volunteers:

  • Thank them. Your volunteers are donating their time and skills to your organization. Make sure they know they’re appreciated!
  • Illustrate their impact. Provide volunteers with data or stories that show the difference they’ve made. (Example: If they helped with an event, let them know how much that event raised and how that money will be used).
  • Promote future volunteer opportunities. While you’re telling volunteers how awesome they are, be sure to include any upcoming volunteer opportunities. Hearing about their impact may inspire them to sign up again!
  • Get to know more about them. If you weren’t able to talk about their interests before a project, this may be a great time to get to know more about your volunteers. Consider sending a survey or setting up a quick phone call or meeting.

Volunteer retention and volunteer management should be about building a relationship with your volunteers. Communication is key to building relationships with your volunteers, so be sure to touch base with them often to keep your organization at the forefront of their minds.

Neon One Tip: Neon CRM users can build custom email segments in their system and create automated workflows that apply to those segments. Creating a “Volunteers” email segment will allow you to customize the kinds of communications your volunteers receive.

6. Ask Your Volunteers To Donate

If you think about it, a financial donation only takes a donor a few minutes. But donating your time and skills to an organization as a volunteer can be a much larger commitment. 

This means your volunteers may be some of your most engaged supporters! Don’t be afraid to ask them for financial support. Not only can it help your organization, but it can also keep your volunteers engaged in a whole new way.

That said, you should never ask volunteers to donate right after they’ve volunteered. That might come across as a slap in the face to someone who has just donated their time to your organization. 

Instead, spend some time thanking them for their support and explaining their impact. When you make an appeal in the future, reference their past support and ask them to make an even bigger impact by making a donation. If you want to learn more about how you can steward your relationship with volunteers and convert them into donors, check out our webinar Building Supporter Stewardship through Volunteer Engagement.

7. Thank, Thank, and Thank Again

The most important thing you can do to improve your volunteer retention rate? Say “thank you.” Then say it again. And again.

Your volunteers are some of your most valuable supporters. They donate their time, effort, and skills to make a difference in their community and support a cause that inspires them. They’re more likely to donate to your cause than non-volunteers, too. Your base of volunteers is one of your biggest assets—make sure they understand how much you appreciate them.

And remember: The average hour of volunteer work is worth about $23. If you think about volunteering as an in-kind donation, your volunteers may actually be giving your organization more than some donors. Be sure to thank them appropriately!

Don’t Neglect Your Volunteer Retention Strategies

Without volunteers, many nonprofits would be unable to serve their communities. Managing your volunteers fairly and finding ways to engage them on a deeper level is an important pillar of your organization’s success.

When you meet a new volunteer, ask them some questions about themselves, their interests, their skills, and their motivations. That information will help you find the best niche for each volunteer and give them projects they enjoy. 

Once you’ve made sure you’ve provided both material resources and intangible benefits, look for opportunities to make the most of your volunteers’ unique skills and abilities. Use a volunteer management system to track that information, keep an eye on your volunteer base, and send personalized communications to them. 

Your volunteer management system can help you stay in touch with your volunteers and even inspire them to become financial donors. You can also use it to send impact updates, thank-you messages, and other relationship-building communications between projects.

Neon CRM Can Support Your Organization’s Volunteer Retention Efforts

Neon CRM is a comprehensive donor management system that offers robust volunteer management features. The system also integrates with VolunteerLocal, a volunteer management system that allows you to recruit volunteers, send broadcast emails and text messages, check them in/out on-site and run reports straight to your computer. All that volunteer data syncs to your Neon account with just a single click! To learn more about Neon CRM, join one of our regularly scheduled group demos! These 30-minute sessions will give you a basic overview of Neon CRM’s features and capabilitiesincluding volunteer tracking, customizable donation forms, and the email builderwith zero pressure to buy. Click the button below to sign up!

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