It’s easy to take your volunteers for granted — until they quit. Now, more than ever, short-staffed nonprofits rely on volunteer labor to pick up the slack. To help ensure you’re doing everything you can to engage and retain unpaid workers for the long term, consider the following 10 tips:
1. Build a program. Even small nonprofits can benefit from formalizing their volunteer program. Start by assigning a paid employee as a part- or full-time volunteer coordinator and developing an orientation and training program.
2. Create a “career” path. Ask volunteers to set goals related to completing projects, mastering certain responsibilities or working a specific number of hours. Reward them by recognizing their achievements publicly and providing them with more challenging assignments.
3. Use volunteers’ talents. Give volunteers tasks that will tap into their experience and skills. Be careful, however, that you don’t automatically assume a computer programmer wants to spend his or her volunteer time solving your organization’s technology problems. Some volunteers are anxious to acquire new skills, so be sure to ask.
4. Assign work that counts. Volunteers want to know they’re making a difference and doing work that matters. Although some menial tasks will inevitably fall to volunteers, articulate how every activity contributes to your nonprofit’s success — including answering phones or cleaning animal cages.
5. Consider convenience. Unlike paid employees, volunteers don’t have to show up for work. So be prepared to accommodate their schedules — particularly if they work full-time or have young families — and try to be flexible when they need to cancel at the last minute.
6. Make it social. Many volunteers are motivated by the opportunity to meet like-minded people. Introduce your volunteers to one another and schedule periodic group get-togethers on- and off-site.
7. Communicate. Although you aren’t necessarily going to share your budget woes or operational challenges with volunteers, it’s still important to keep them in the loop. If, for example, you’re planning to discontinue a program that’s heavily staffed by volunteers, let them know as soon as possible.
8. Ask their opinions. Even volunteers who have been with you for a short time will likely have suggestions about how your nonprofit can do things faster, cheaper or better. So, regularly solicit feedback, listen carefully and act on promising ideas.
9. Adapt to changing needs. If you can’t find people interested in your current volunteer program, change it. For example, younger volunteers may welcome the opportunity to volunteer via computer, updating your website or writing press releases. Parents may be interested in weekend activities that include children.
10. Say “thank you.” You simply can’t thank your volunteers enough, so let them know how much you appreciate them at every opportunity. In addition, send occasional thank you cards, take them to lunch or even hold a volunteer appreciation day.
Source: PDI Global