A Simple Strategy for Volunteer Appreciation and Retention
Many nonprofit organizations rely heavily on the work of volunteers to carry out their missions. Once you realize that the relationship your organization has with your volunteers determines the sustainability of your nonprofit, volunteer retention and appreciation become critical factors in your success.
How does your nonprofit approach retaining volunteers? What are you doing to keep them engaged, fulfilled and motivated? Let’s explore a simple strategy to engage, appreciate and retain your volunteers.
Showing Appreciation to Volunteers
Volunteers are active participants in helping you achieve your mission and improve your community, so you should acknowledge their help and show appreciation.
- Start by thanking them. Understand how important volunteers are for your nonprofit. The reasons why volunteers may stop helping a nonprofit often include lack of communication, an unorganized nonprofit, not feeling a sense of professionalism, not receiving feedback and not feeling like they’re making a difference. Therefore, express your gratitude with a simple, but sincere, recognition of their efforts and a “thank you.”
- Communicate effectively. Keep volunteers up-to-date with organizational events and opportunities. People feel appreciated when invited to collaborate and participate, so be sure to make communications a two-way street, using different media and tools, to share and seek information. Then listen and use the insights your volunteers provide. Be sure to talk about how any upcoming changes and improvements have resulted from volunteer feedback.
- Provide memorable experiences. Volunteering should offer an enriching and rewarding experience in exchange for their time. Share success stories with your volunteers, allow them to see the impact they’re making in the community and projects in action, understand their interests and take time to get to know them to personalize experiences based on preferences and abilities.
- Recognize personal achievements. Providing recognition boosts engagement by creating a link between the volunteer and the impact they’re making in the community.
How to Retain Volunteers
- Create a solid strategy for a volunteer training program. Proper training is one of the most important factors in the sustainability of your volunteer program — and your nonprofit. Proper training is key for the motivation, development and retention of your volunteers. Remember that no training program is set in stone and that it will benefit from optimization along the way.
- Respect volunteers’ values and time. By understanding your volunteers, you’ll get to know them and what they stand for and will be able to truly respect them. Value their opinions, minimize the risk of gossip at volunteer events, and be aware of their comfort zone and don’t push them to cross it. Take the time to learn something from them to improve your nonprofit.
- Be accessible at all times. Volunteers often encounter issues when it comes to fulfilling their commitment to your organization. Those issues should be solved efficiently and quickly, and the best way to do it is to be accessible to them at all times. Create a contact group on social media, provide several ways to contact you and provide a designated shadow if they need immediate help.
- Build a community. Nothing will make your volunteers feel more welcome than a social gathering. For example, organize a place and time, bring in some food, and allow your volunteers to socialize before they get to work on a project. Neglected volunteers won’t come back, but those who make social connections will keep coming back to your nonprofit and your cause.
The vast majority of your volunteers will come and go; that’s the nature of their work as their priorities and availability change. It’s important to try new things and stay flexible, and the proven strategies above are a great starting point for showing appreciation to your volunteers. Follow them, and you will see a difference in the number of those who want to keep coming back to help.
Peter Gamache, PhD, is a research, development and evaluation specialist for health services organizations, private foundations and federally-funded public service organizations. His current research interests include disparities in health and mental health, integrated care, program fidelity and program outcomes. He advocates for a collective understanding of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and culture to prevent and address marginalization of people living with disease, illness, injury and disability.
Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, serves as the development director, systems analyst, and director of evaluation for Turnaround Life, Inc. She has more than 26 years of experience dealing with nonprofit management, overseeing operations, grant development, grant management, capacity building evaluation and performance assessment.
Jackie manages the overall operations and resources of the company and works to enhance and sustain customer relationships and capacity building with stakeholders. She has worked to secure more than $69 million in government grants and expanding systems of care and behavioral health treatment in Florida, Mississippi, New Orleans, Maine and Virginia. Of that total, $22 million was awarded in the past three years in partnership with Turnaround Life and Turnaround Achievement Network, LLC.
Jackie is a Certified Recovery Coach, and the former vice president of development of Operation PAR, Inc., and executive director of the LiveFree! Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Pinellas County. She earned her master’s with a concentration in nonprofit management and master’s in organizational management and leadership from Springfield College School of Professional and Continuing Studies, Tampa Bay campus.
She has taught graduate and undergraduate students as an adjunct faculty member for Springfield College Tampa Bay campus and currently serves as the president of its Community Advisory Board. Jackie founded Jackie Sue Griffin & Associates, LLC in 2013 to provide nonprofit organizations, health and human services, and government agencies consulting expertise and technical assistance in fund development and philanthropy and capacity building.