The Keys to Volunteer Retention

By Alexis Elsethagen, VYP Events Committee Co-Chair

When operating a nonprofit organization, oftentimes you rely heavily on the support of volunteers. Like a business working to build a network of loyal customers, you’re looking for continual, unpaid time from these individuals. How do you ensure they come back? As great as your organization may be, the mission is not the only component to retaining volunteers. The three major components to ensuring volunteers return are motivation, culture, and recognition.

Make-A-Wish® is an organization that grants the wishes of kids with critical illnesses. As a volunteer, I believe in the power of a wish and the effect it has not only on Wish kids but their families too. Make-A-Wish inspires volunteers by capturing moments. They share videos, pictures and stories from everyone involved in the Wish, including the volunteers. Their success is largely driven by motivating those involved in the Wish to believe that what they’re doing is making a difference. They continue to recruit and retain volunteers by encouraging them to share the power of a wish from their perspective.

In Clark County, 13.4% of the population is considered food insecure. They don’t know from where their next meal will come. Three Square believes that every person should have three square meals a day. Like many nonprofits, they depend on volunteers to keep the operation running. One of the many project options available to volunteers is sorting food at their warehouse. While sorting, Three Square makes their environment fun for their volunteers, playing loud music and holding competitions to see who finishes packing the food bags first. It’s an environment that is both entertaining and inspiring teamwork.

Another opportunity to retain volunteers is to thank them for their time. Some organizations, like Make-A-Wish and Disney VoluntEARS, give out annual awards to those who put in an outstanding amount of time to their organization. You could also throw a party for volunteers, send out personal thank you cards, or designate titled volunteer positions. If people feel like their efforts are noticed, they’re more likely to come back.

If you’re looking to keep a volunteer base remember that motivation, culture and recognition are the keys. Share your message and inspire others to share it too. Create a company culture the encourages people to give you their extra time and make the environment as fun as possible. If your volunteers are happy, they are more likely to make a positive impact on your organization. Lastly, make sure your volunteers know they’re appreciated. Make sure you recognize their efforts, even with a simple thank you. That’s the way to keep your volunteers coming back so you can all work together to make a greater impact on the community.