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Volunteer management & retention


How you manage your volunteers is a key piece in retaining this valuable group of people.  When designing your management program think of volunteers in the same light you would your employees.  There are many common areas of management.  However, some involve unique considerations/accommodations for volunteers.   Consider the following areas; taking notice of similarities & differences.


Orientation: Use this time to explain your organization's mission in vivid detail.  Volunteers seek out organizations that appeal to their values, so make a connection to their heart.  Then, link every task performed back to the organization's mission.  Understanding how their daily work is helping move the organization in a positive direction gives a sense of purpose and fulfillment.


Training: Volunteers may not have an extensive understanding of your organization's inner workings needed to be effective.  Take the time to adequately train them on how to perform their job function with clear instructions.  Also, provide a mentor or list of people they can go to for support if they have additional questions.  Consider training an ongoing necessity and periodically check in with volunteers to determine training needs.


Scheduling: Volunteers spend time in your organization because they want to, not because they have to.  Flexibility in scheduling is a must.  The more you can accommodate the volunteer's schedule the better chance you have of keeping them.   If you have time constraints for particular tasks, be upfront in the volunteer job description.  Only accept a volunteer who can adhere to the constraint or consider making the job a paid position.


Workload: Striking the right balance with a volunteer's workload is critical to retention.  You want to keep them busy but not overwhelmed.  This will require focused management as everybody works at their own pace.  When checking in with volunteers ask them specifically about their workload & use this information to make changes in assignments.  In addition, workload questions can help you assess whether volunteers are matched correctly to jobs & if any are ready for more responsibility. 


Communication: Communication is vital to the organization/volunteer relationship.  Treat volunteers as a part of the team by including them in notices of current happenings, both internal & external, that effect the organization.  Solicit their feedback on new ideas or ways to improve the organization.  Continuously engage your volunteers in discussions around how to improve your volunteer program.  Actively pursue the valuable insight volunteers hold of your organization.


Compensation: Display of appreciation is the number one way to compensate volunteers for their hard work & dedication.  It is essential that volunteers know that the time they are spending with your organization is recognized.  The way you show appreciation should be based on the preference of the volunteer.  Some prefer public displays such as inclusion in your newsletter, on your website, during a speech or meeting.  Others prefer personal displays such as cards or a verbal thank you.  You may also want to consider holding a volunteer appreciation party or organized group activity.  It is important to tell volunteers often that they are valued. 


Promotion: Offer promotions for volunteers who show a desire to do more for your organization.  Added responsibilities, taking on special projects, serving as a mentor or running your volunteer program can help keep your volunteers engaged & motivated to serve your organization for a long time.


Next article > Volunteer separation