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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.)
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.
- Give volunteers the opportunity to introduce themselves and share their skills, interests and background in a brief questionnaire. This is the time to ask what they would like to gain from volunteering with your organization. Many volunteers see their contributions as an opportunity to develop professional skills.
- Collect essential contact information and schedule availability.
- Review your nonprofit’s mission to ensure volunteers can speak to your cause.
- Introduce new volunteers to their job duties with a colorful and cleanly compiled “welcome packet” consisting of policies, detailed job descriptions and extra resources. You may also want to include articles about volunteering, information on the population you serve or tips for working with small children for example.
- Share additional resources through email or create a volunteer portal on your website that includes everything in the welcome packet, plus other helpful tips and ways to track their hours.
- Emphasize the impact you are making on the community to help volunteers envision the work they will accomplish.
- Provide a simple snack for a thoughtful bonus.
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.
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.
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 firespring.org/trial or learn more about how our customized websites can help you make an even bigger difference by calling 877.447.8941 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.