Six strategies to improve your volunteer retention.
While many people start volunteering for the same reasons – such as improving their resume or making connections – a lot of people never end up staying. According to the Corporation for National & Community Service, the national average for volunteer retention rates is about 65%. What this means is that 1 out of every 3 volunteers will stop volunteering sooner than expected.
This is because they either don't enjoy the work they are doing, they don't feel like they're making a difference, or they don't feel like they're getting anything out of it. One way to stop this from happening is to make sure your organization has well-defined volunteer policies and volunteer retention strategies. Volunteering is meant to be a feel-good activity with benefits for both the volunteer and the nonprofit.
At Catchafire, we bridge the gap between volunteers, nonprofits, and mission-critical work in communities. We connect nonprofits with highly-skilled volunteer professionals around the globe who are ready to lend their expertise and provide capacity support. This allows nonprofits to focus on their missions. As part of our work, we’ve seen firsthand the best practices around volunteer engagement and retention for nonprofits, freeing up their capacity to do more for their communities.
Why Is Retention Important for Nonprofits?
Nonprofits are often overextended with a variety of time-consuming projects on their plate and minimal capacity to execute them. Volunteers and volunteer retention is crucial to nonprofits; they provide the necessary support staff members need to focus on their missions and communities. Providing a welcoming environment and keeping volunteers engaged during their experience is important for relationship-building, and typically leads to volunteer retention. With ‘The Great Resignation’ and the world extending past the third year of a pandemic, nonprofits are struggling with organizational staffing and capacity, needing to attract and retain volunteers now more than ever. Volunteers are a key part in keeping nonprofit programming and administrative operations running so that they can effectively meet the needs of their communities. Volunteers on Catchafire have donated over 1 million hours and saved nonprofits over $200 million.
Volunteer retention for a nonprofit has so many important benefits. Volunteers can become sustaining donors, friendraisers, board members, and so much more. They can be the first people to buy tickets for your events, recommend constituents to use your services, and help you get the grant dollars that you need. They can promote and raise awareness for your mission as a brand ambassador on social media.
Volunteer retention is not an easy task, but the benefits can be instrumental to your nonprofit. We’ve pulled a few volunteer retention strategies and best practices together to help you retain the volunteers that mean so much to your mission.
6 Strategies To Improve Your Volunteer Retention
1. Keep Volunteer Retention In Mind from the Start
- As part of annual planning, map out the different types of volunteers that you have within your organization (skills-based, board members, event volunteers, traditional volunteers, etc.). What are all of the volunteering opportunities you anticipate having throughout the upcoming year?
- For each volunteer type, create a light strategy on how you want to think about retention. You should consider the retention activities that you and your team will focus on and the frequency at which you will perform the retention activities. Ensure that you are building out your stewardship and communications calendar with the goal of retention. When will you be reaching out to your volunteers, what content will you be providing, and what is your communications cadence throughout the year?
- You should think about the similarities between volunteers and your donor strategy. Volunteer retention is all about relationship management, communication, and creating a positive experience for the volunteer so that they return to your organization and become an ambassador for your cause. Keep these factors in mind as you think about your volunteer retention strategy from the start.
2. Track Your Organization’s Volunteering Data
- What are best practices around volunteer data and segmentation? It may sound obvious, but having a system to keep track of your volunteers is key when thinking about volunteer retention strategies. If your nonprofit doesn’t have a CRM, create your own tracking system using a tool like Airtable or Excel.
- At a minimum, your tracking system should have information such as the volunteer’s name, contact information, volunteer type, volunteer start date, last touchpoint, and a list of their contributions to your nonprofit. Consider what other information you’d like to collect as part of a volunteer survey. What information would be beneficial for your organization to have on hand?
- Create a recurring calendar reminder to regularly review and update your volunteer data.
3. Use a Volunteering Platform Like Catchafire
- Consider using a volunteering platform like Catchafire. You can focus on your mission while we handle the rest. Catchafire provides pre-scoped and short-term projects that help nonprofits and volunteers. Every project template is built by industry experts, designed to respond to your needs, grow capacity quickly, and be easy to use — allowing you to get your request up within five minutes and find experienced volunteers. For those who want to volunteer but have a more rigid schedule, one hour consultation calls allow you to request immediate support for a specific question or need. These are typically great for high-level project and strategy brainstorming before you kick off your project with a volunteer.
- Catchafire’s focus is on skills-based volunteering and for good reason. According to this survey, 44% of respondents said that if an organization cannot use their specific skills, they will volunteer elsewhere instead of doing menial work. Using Catchafire paves the way for stronger volunteer retention.
- On average, a nonprofit and a volunteer connect within five days, which creates a quick and seamless experience for both parties. Catchafire also has a high caliber of volunteers. On average, we see our volunteers have 11 years of professional experience. Additionally, 65% of our volunteers have nonprofit experience outside of Catchafire. These volunteers are around the world and they are ready to provide expertise in key areas like marketing, design, strategic planning, IT, HR, finance, and more.
- A volunteering platform like Catchafire sets you up for successful long-lasting relationships, which in turn helps with volunteer engagement and retention.
4. Provide Volunteers with Needed Resources
- Communicate - clearly outline what you need: Being as clear as possible about what contributions you want to get out of the project helps set expectations from the beginning. Make sure that you let the volunteer know specifically what you want them to do by the end of the project, and provide them with all of the necessary organizational materials that they need to complete it. You can use the deliverables and project steps descriptions in the project menu for guidance. Learn more about how you can manage volunteer engagement effectively.
- Outline and agree on milestones and deadlines: Communicate and align yourself with your volunteer around milestones and deadlines. Setting up tentative due dates will help keep you both on a timeline, and this can go a long way to ensuring successful project completion! It is also important to define from the beginning what a successful end to the project looks like. Do you want to end up with a document, a presentation, a call, or a meeting? Review these tips and tricks on managing your volunteers.
- Understand each other’s schedules and work styles: Discuss with your volunteer how and when you will plan on communicating and your preferred work styles. Do weeknights work better for a check in? Do you prefer Skype or Google Hangout over the phone? Do you want emails to be answered within 48 hours? Do you expect to receive at least two rounds of edits for graphic design or copywriting work from volunteers? Create a cadence and volunteering format that will work for the both of you.
- Feedback is important in ensuring success: One of our best practices at Catchafire is sharing the importance of debriefs and touch points during projects, events, calls or meetings. It’s important to assess what worked well, what needed improvements, and learnings for next time. This is great for volunteers, both for professional development and for building relationships with the organization.
- Make them feel connected to your mission: In order to set your volunteer up for success and bring them along on your journey, having them feel connected to your cause is important. You can do this by sharing videos of your work, offering for them to talk to different staff members, and inviting them to any events that show your direct impact in the community. This helps bring your work to life for volunteers, allowing them to form a stronger relationship with their project and how it translates into a direct impact for the organization and its community members. It provides volunteers with a sense of connection and fulfillment, prompting them to sign up for more projects with your organization.
5. Thank Your Volunteers Often
Demonstrate appreciation and gratitude, provide an overall welcoming environment, and consider how to thank volunteers after collaborating on a project together. This will have a significant impact on volunteer retention.
- A common question is how to communicate and thank volunteers after a project has been completed. A small “thank you” note for volunteering can go a long way and acknowledge a volunteer’s hard work and dedication. A handwritten thank you note or a phone call shows your appreciation and the time you are taking to go the extra step and reach out.
“I simply LOVE working with Kim! She is quick, accurate and detailed. I could not ask for a better CAF Skilled-Based Volunteer! THANK YOU KIM!!!”
Director of Development Communications & Training, Community Friendship, Inc.
- Offer to write your volunteer a LinkedIn recommendation, a Catchafire testimonial, or serve as a job reference to help showcase their work and your successful collaboration.
"Where do I start in reference to Joann? Whenever you are fortunate enough to encounter a PHENOMENAL “heart,” centered contributor, rather they are a volunteer, teammate, client, sponsor and/or employee; hence, with jubilee, you celebrate the opportunity that you had while immersed in their greatness!! Joann is outstanding!! The interview call started at 10:00 AM (EST) and within 22 minutes, we finished our conversation about the project with the intention that she would review the material and follow-up. Well, fifty-five minutes later, she contacted me with a few questions, and in truth, I was not expected to hear from her until days and/or weeks later. Nonetheless, at 5:58 PM to be exact; the project was completed with precision!! As most non-profit leaders understand, our most valuable assets are our time, program and a “dream team!” Although I want absolutely the highest level of success for Joann, she is one that I wish I could keep on staff! No matter her career paths, anyone is lucky to have her a part of their team!!”
- Send them any swag that your organization has! By sending a t-shirt or tote bag, you can have your volunteer continue to spread the good word about your work.
- Have a volunteer appreciation event that is virtual or in-person to express gratitude and have volunteers meet one another, as well as your staff. This builds community, which in turn leads to long-term retention.
- Invite volunteers to events for a discounted rate (galas, cocktail parties, Zoom events, etc.). They’re already an ambassador for your nonprofit and it’s a nice way to thank them and update them on the latest news and programming.
By making your volunteers feel appreciated, you are on your way to getting repeat volunteers and meeting your volunteer retention goals. Volunteering doesn’t have to be a one-time engagement - 76% of matches on Catchafire are with repeat volunteers.
For example, in September 2021, Ingham Health Plan Corporation matched with Basmah, a volunteer from Jordan experienced in translation and copy editing, on a translation project. Basmah helped translate the organization’s communications materials so that their work could reach Afghan refugees in their community. The project saved Ingham Health Plan Corporation over $7,000.
Basmah matched with the organization again in July 2022 to collaborate on another translation project, allowing Ingham Health Plan Corporation to spend more time on outreach and enrollment for community members.
“This is the second time I've worked with Basmah. I was so impressed with our first interaction that I reached out to her about another translation project. She is responsive to messages which is important for deadline purposes. She is prompt in the delivery of the product and the quality of her work is well above expectations. It has been a pleasure to work with her again.”
“It is always great to work with Lori. Glad that I was able to help them reach communities who speak the Arabic language.”
6. Follow-up and Stay In Touch
- One encounter with a volunteer can turn into so many new connections and opportunities. All of your communication and stewardship efforts will be widely appreciated and make them feel like a part of your organization’s community.
- Ensure that your volunteers are part of your ongoing communications (newsletters, your mailing lists, your event invitations, etc). Keep them in the loop as much as you can so that they can follow along on the great work you are doing, share it with other volunteers, or become a repeat volunteer.
“Our Catchafire volunteer from last year is actually coming to our Board retreat on Saturday. That’s how involved some people became.”
Co-Founder, Artportunity Knocks
By developing volunteer retention strategies around long-term relationships, transparent communications, and how to thank volunteers and show appreciation, you can increase your volunteer retention rates.
Questions? Speak to our team of nonprofit advisors for more information on volunteer retention and how to get the most out of your Catchafire membership by emailing [email protected].
Get Involved With Catchafire
There’s many ways to get involved with Catchafire:
- Sign up to volunteer and support critical programming for nonprofits.
- If you’re a grantmaker and would like to learn more about equipping nonprofits in your community with responsive, high-quality operational support, let’s connect. Email us here.
Read our blog to learn more about the Catchafire community from our volunteers, partner nonprofits, and funders.
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