Retain volunteers through ongoing interaction

Volunteer retention requires regular communication and support.

Volunteer coordinators invest significant time in potential volunteers during recruitment, screening and training. It is easy to think the work is done once a volunteer has been officially accepted into a program, but really it is just beginning.

Without regular monitoring and support, programs risk losing great volunteers. There are a variety of reasons to check in with volunteers regularly.

  • If a volunteer is unhappy and you find out early, there is time to make adjustments and retain the volunteer. Perhaps there is a different volunteer position that is a better fit or some additional training would help. Check-ins provide an opportunity to get a pulse-check on how the volunteer is doing.
  • Small problems can become large problems quickly if left to fester. Volunteers might not call you with what seems to be a small issue. If you call them, they might bring it up and you can provide needed support. It is often difficult for people to ask for help, so make it easier by initiating the conversation.
  • Volunteers may not recognize red flags or potential concerns that could cause harm to program participants in the same way a trained, experienced staff member does.
  • Regular communication allows you to ensure program policies and procedures are followed, which is key to risk management.

So, how often should you check in with volunteers? It depends on the volunteer position.

If volunteers are providing significant support on a daily basis, weekly check-ins could be warranted. For volunteers who serve weekly, perhaps monthly or every other month works. For sporadic volunteers, quarterly check-ins might be sufficient. The amount of communication needed correlates to the significance of the work they are engaged in.

Check-ins can take place face-to-face, by phone, email or other established communication system. The more personal, the better.

If you manage a large number of volunteers, personal communication with each volunteer may be difficult. Consider starting with some sort of volunteer log or tracking sheet where volunteers can report their efforts and share successes and concerns. These tools can help you determine who needs a follow-up call.

Michigan State University Extension recommends volunteer coordinators establish a relationship with volunteers so they can work together to navigate any difficulties that arise. The “Volunteer Monitoring: Questions to Guide Volunteer Management Professionals” tip sheet provides some questions to ask volunteers during check-ins.

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