Retention Refresh: Recapping Our Last Think Tank Conversation

by Sharon Mvundura

Think Tank Conversations are bi-monthly meetups of those who manage, coordinate and engage volunteers in Edmonton. The space we’ve created is one of discussion, networking and working through the trends, challenges and success volunteer coordinators face in their roles. Our May session was the last one before a summer break. Read on for what Think Tankers had to say about volunteer retention.

Organizations are experiencing a variety of challenges when it comes to volunteer retention. Time was the buzzword of the morning and played an important role in the strain organizations feel. They’re experiencing high turnover rates, volunteers leaving for paid employment, and are investing in volunteer training and orientation only to have volunteers leave.

I thought the majority of the morning would be spent talking about challenges, but organizations were quickly producing questions and possible solutions to their volunteer retention woes. Some that came out of our framing conversation were:

  • Who is your audience?
  • How can we meet volunteers where they are?
  • How can we instill ownership and accountability in volunteers?

First: audience.

Volunteer managers admitted that in order to retain volunteers it is important to recruit the right volunteers first. It just doesn’t cut it to fill volunteer spots.

During the recruitment process, identify what type of volunteer your organization needs and wants. Ensure skill sets match the needs of the program and screen out unsuitable candidates. One volunteer manager shared their story of recruiting volunteers in a rush to fill spots only to reflect later that some of those volunteers just weren’t the right fit. It’s time to get strategic about the recruitment process.

Second: meeting volunteers where they’re at.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • How can your program and roles be more flexible?
  • What are the goals of your volunteers?
  • How can you help them fulfill or find their passion or purpose through your organization?
  •  Is there room for volunteers to grow in your organization?

You can explore those questions in the recruitment process with potential volunteers.  In this Think Tank, we used Volunteer Alberta’s handy “Window of Work” tool. This is a one page worksheet that can be used by organizations to discover volunteer’s motives, their intentions and non-negotiables when it comes to volunteer work. Try it! It got great response in the room.

But what about volunteers who have been in your organization for many years? It’s never too late to check in with them. Doing check-ins, one-on-one feedback sessions to gauge volunteer engagement is a great way to know where there’s room for improvement and how you can continue to provide a rewarding experience for all volunteers.

Lastly: ownership and accountability.

The truth is we’ll never get the volunteer retention thing down to a science. Volunteers will always leave at some point, but there are ways to increase buy-in and engagement. It starts with training and orientation, ensuring that they have what they need to be successful. Besides having volunteer appreciation events and methods, it’s important to nurture and build relationships. This might come in the form of increasing face to face interaction with your volunteers, or creating a buddy system, allowing shadow shifts at your organization or other formal ways for strong relationships to be the foundation of your volunteer program.

One aha! moment happened when one Think Tanker said “Our organization has changed, but we didn’t bring volunteers along with us.”

My biggest takeaway from the morning was: those who manage and coordinate volunteers are ready to make their programs engaging and inviting for volunteers.  They even all committed to one incremental change that they would make in their organization. Here are some of the commitments:

  • Explore other ways to collect feedback in my organization
  • Train staff on how to maintain positive relationships with volunteers
  • Find more opportunities to give face to face feedback with other volunteers
  • Check in with long term volunteers on their satisfaction
  • Pull together a focus group of volunteers to give feedback

We’ll be back in the fall with more Think Tanks and engaging mornings filled with learning and connection.

Read our other Think Tank recaps:

Volunteer Recruitment

Volunteer Recognition

Share