Any nonprofit that has long-term volunteers realizes their value. They save your nonprofit the time and money you would spend training new volunteers. They also become ambassadors and recruiters for your organization. And through their knowledge and experience, long-term, or “repeat,” volunteers add value to your programs.
So how do you keep this precious commodity on board? Here are four ideas for retaining volunteers for the long haul.
1. Give them the right jobs. Match assignments with volunteers’ skills, but also be open to letting them choose their jobs. Some volunteers want to be challenged and learn new skill sets. These days, many volunteers are unemployed or underemployed, or may be going back to school to prepare for new careers. In any of these scenarios, what they do as a volunteer is important to them. The experience might lead to a degree, employment or a better-paying job, which tops the satisfaction of giving alone.
2. Support and connect with them. Good programs don’t throw their volunteers into the water without a life preserver. Training is one of your most important methods of support. So is your availability when volunteers contact you with questions, or stop by the office. Use these opportunities — advising them, pointing them to the right resources and so on — to make a strong connection. Also take their feedback seriously. Sometimes volunteers can pinpoint problems at your organization that you may be too close to see.
3. Put them in touch with their peers. Many volunteers join an organization mainly to serve, but it’s the friendships they make and the social interactions they have that lock in their decision to stay. Enhance relationships by assigning experienced volunteers to mentor novices. Your organization also can institute virtual communications among volunteers by having a place on the Internet where they can post comments, launch discussions and follow peer conversations. If you have the financial resources, workshops are a good vehicle for building peer (and staff-volunteer) relationships.
4. Appreciate, appreciate, appreciate. Treat your volunteers like VIPs. Acknowledge their contributions and make them feel valued. Tangible signs of appreciation, such as a small gift, go a long way. But so do intangible signs of appreciation: sending a thank-you card, praising them at a community event or promoting them to volunteer leadership positions. Some nonprofits put together “tribute books” online or in print. Remember, there are scores of creative and inexpensive ways to show your volunteers that you hold them in high esteem.