Tag Archives: Volunteer Managers

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

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The Recruitment Grind: Recapping Our Latest Think Tank Conversation

by Sharon Mvundura

Think Tank Conversations are a bi-monthly meetup of those who manage, coordinate and engage volunteers in Edmonton. The space we have created is one of discussion, networking and working through the trends, challenges and success volunteer coordinators face in their roles. We kicked off 2018 with a January discussion on Volunteer Recruitment and, as always, Think Tankers had a lot to say about this topic.

Here’s what we heard:

Edmonton organizations face a variety of challenges that affect their ability to successfully recruit volunteers. One organization found it difficult to recruit volunteers for the needed time slots  in their program. Others find it difficult to recruit during the “off season,” during the holidays there’s an excess amount of volunteer inquiries but the well dries up once January hits. For others, they are just simply finding it hard to recruit volunteers that will stay. In our fast paced society it seems the revolving door has arrived to volunteerism. So what can organizations do when faced with all those barriers?

While the morning was filled with sharing what isn’t working, there were some valuable learnings that led us to realize that maybesome solutions aren’t so out of reach.

One volunteer manager shared how, after facing challenges with scheduling or turnover, they decided to “rejig” some of their opportunities. They made some roles more flexible, shortened the commitment time, and worked with the feedback they were getting from prospective volunteers to adapt. This brings us to the first big unsurprising revelation:

CHANGE IS HARD.

Volunteer managers have little time between the daily grind of the volunteer cycle (recruit, train, orient, retain, recognize) to even think about changing up process. But what if it happened? What if looking at small or large tweaks to your program could fix some of the barriers of recruitment and retention you’re facing? It just might make the daily grind a little less… grindy.

Think Tankers shared a few other ways they achieved their recruitment goals. Don’t have recruitment goals? Then you should definitely start there. Figure out what outcome you want from recruitment. Do you want volunteers of a particular age group, or with particular skills? Decide, then figure out where those volunteers are and how to reach them.

One volunteer coordinator found success at some university career fairs; a great way to connect with young motivated volunteers.  Another one decided to let volunteers and clients recruit volunteers. They created videos and messaging with volunteers and clients to speaking about the impact of the program. Their campaign was a success and also used other tactics like local media.

We also spent a great deal of time talking about A/B testing. I first read about using this method for volunteer recruitment from an article by Erin R. Spink in the e-volunteerism Journal, which is unfortunately only available to subscribers. Basically, the method calls for taking aspects  of your recruitment ad such as a headline, colours, image or messaging and testing two different versions to see which one gets the most engagement. Here’s an example:

Which one are you more likely to click on?

These are two ads with the same image and a call to action, but using different messaging. This fake organization might use both these ads on their social media and track the number of clicks and engagements each of them get.  Social platforms like Twitter and Facebook have built in tools for you to track the engagement on your posts. You can also do this with physical advertising if you keep track of where you put certain ads and ask those who contact you how they heard about the opportunity. This means that you’ll be able to identify what’s working and what isn’t. Many organizations use the same ads, messaging and avenues for recruiting volunteers without ever analyzing whether it’s working. Using a simple A/B test might help refine your recruitment.

As our time came to end, Think Tankers mused on different questions for all of us to consider. How do we work collectively to educate the public on the various volunteer requirements? How can we be adaptive to meet the changing needs of volunteers? Questions that couldn’t be tackled then but… maybe at a future Think Tank!

To read past Think Tank recaps and catch up with what Edmonton volunteer managers are thinking, click here.

Want to join fellow volunteer managers at our next Think Tank on March 16th? RSVP Here!

Resources & Quick Tips:

  • If you’re getting a lot of volunteers that don’t quite fit your agency, why not recommend them to other local organizations?
  • Make it easier for people to find you and apply:
    • Develop an online application
    • Unique advertising: printing coasters and partnering with local eateries
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What Volunteer Managers Want you to Know

Did you know most organizations have a volunteer manager? This is often the first person you talk with at an organization. Their job among other things is to recruit, train and manage volunteers. Here’s the scoop on what volunteer managers want you to know about volunteering.

  • Screening comes first: Organizations must screen every volunteer to ensure the position is right for them and ensure volunteer safety. Processes vary for different organizations but expect to go through an interview, police check and orientation before you start a volunteer role. You can also use the screening process to see if an organization is right for you by asking questions and observing their practices.
  • Your skills and interests matter: Think of your skills and hobbies – you can utilize those in your volunteer role. If it’s not obvious how you can use your skills, talk to the volunteer manager about what you can contribute. Your interests might be the perfect match for an organization’s need.
  • The organization needs you: Every volunteer is a vital member of the organization. Being punctual and present at assigned shifts or events contributes to the success of each effort. If there’s an emergency or you’re sick, let your volunteer manager know you won’t be at your shift.
  • You’re appreciated: Volunteer managers want to recognize your contributions to the organization. They might host a volunteer appreciation event, send thank you cards or give a gift. You should participate in these events and engage with other volunteers. Your contribution matters!
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