Posted by Kelsey Varisco

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, volunteering has steadily decreased over the last several years with only 62.6 million people volunteering between September 2014 and September 2015. That may seem like a high number, but that means only one in five Americans volunteered, and this downward trend has remained consistent over the last decade.

With how much work it takes to attract dedicated volunteers, what can we do to ensure they keep coming back? Here are three simple things you can do to make a great first impression and increase volunteer retention.

(And if you haven’t already established a volunteer management process at your nonprofit, come back after you check out our recent article on the first steps you can take to make your volunteering vision a reality.)

1. Provide a warm welcome.

It is all about the first impression. Once a volunteer has committed to supporting your nonprofit, schedule an orientation for them to get to know you. You will have a lot of information to review at this initial meeting, and the welcome helps you form a genuine connection with new volunteers. Set everyone at ease by creating a comfortable space, greeting them personally and calmly diving into their responsibilities. When you successfully create a safe space to welcome volunteers, they will absorb more information and feel they belong. Introduce yourself and share a little about your mission and why you love it.

2. Communicate regularly and clearly.

Don’t let your volunteer recruitment and orientation efforts go to waste. Email volunteers within two days to address questions and say thank you. If volunteers don’t hear from you right away, they will move on to another opportunity.

After volunteers have started working with you, assign a volunteer coordinator or one point person from your organization to check in and answer questions. Establishing this structure will ensure consistency and clarity. A prompt response shows you value volunteers as members of the team. Regular emails help build rapport by recognizing great work and extra efforts.

3. Ask questions and make improvements.

Volunteers have a unique perspective working with your organization, and you should encourage an open dialog asking them to share both success stories and the struggles they face. If you create a comfortable space to provide opinions and ask questions, volunteers will know you support them. Schedule check-ins between staff and volunteers along the way and invite volunteers to shadow staff if they want to learn more about your organization.

After volunteers help with a big event or have volunteered regularly, request feedback with an online follow-up survey or interview. Ask questions to see what worked well and what challenges they had. It takes time to master a volunteer management plan. Flexibility and understanding in staff and volunteers will help everyone stay calm, communicative and effective throughout the process.

4. Give a big thank-you.

At the end of a hard day’s work, everyone benefits from a genuine “thank you!” or “good job!.” Figure out your preferred way to express gratitude, and remember volunteers need to hear it. There is no wrong way to say thank you, but say it loudly. Whether you personalize cards, hold a volunteer appreciation luncheon or offer a team shirt and cold water bottle, your volunteers will take note of how you respond to their time. Keep your volunteers coming back to your organization by creating a positive experience they will remember.

Want to manage your volunteers online? Firespring offers websites with a built-in volunteer management system that allows volunteers to apply directly on your site, sign up for shifts and more. Create calendars that illustrate upcoming events, volunteer trainings and orientations as well. Start your free trial at or learn more about how our customized websites can help you make an even bigger difference by calling 877.447.8941 or email