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3 Ways to Improve Volunteer Retention for Small Nonprofits

By September 5, 2023Nonprofit Tips
eleo nonprofit volunteer retention

The 2021 Volunteering in America Report found that nearly one in four American adults – 60.7 million – volunteered 4.1 billion hours. This data speaks to both the need and the value of volunteers in supporting nonprofit missions across the country.

However, research has shown that the volunteer retention rate for nonprofits is 65 percent. That means about one out of every three volunteers will not return.

“Well, volunteers aren’t paid,” you might say. “We’ll just find someone else.”

Instead, look at it this way. According to Independent Sector, the value of a volunteer hour in 2022 was $31.80. If the average volunteer spends one hour per week volunteering, your nonprofit loses $1,653.60 in yearly value each time a volunteer leaves.

Of course, this doesn’t include the money and resources spent recruiting and training new volunteers. And it’s difficult to put a price tag on the passion, skills, and talents of each individual volunteer.

Here’s the good news. There are steps small nonprofits like yours can take to boost volunteer retention rates and maintain the awesomeness that every volunteer brings to your organization! Start by focusing on these volunteer management activities.

1) Volunteer Recognition

There are several ways to recognize the contributions and commitment of your volunteers. Create special volunteer appreciation programs. Give them shout outs on social media, in your newsletter, and in person during live events. Have your Executive Director or Board leadership call them and thank them!

You can also seek input from volunteers on what they do, how they help, and how to improve your programs and events. Send surveys for feedback. Make them part of the process in your efforts to grow fundraising, improve operations, and meet your mission!

2) Onboarding, Training, and Professional Development

Just like a small business will see better results when they have a formal process for getting employees up to speed and investing in their growth, nonprofits can do the same with volunteers!

Formalize your process for onboarding volunteers. Formalize your process for training them to perform various tasks and support your programs and initiatives. Training should be different for different types of volunteer work. Having a formal process will ensure consistency in onboarding and training and reduce the risk of volunteers feeling unprepared.

At the same time, volunteers should be able to learn and grow just like staff. Identify opportunities for volunteers to learn internally from leadership and externally through in-person and virtual professional development. Move volunteers into new roles and recognize their growth!

3) Opportunity Matching

Some volunteers are very task-oriented. They’re more than content to sort donated food and clothing, stock shelves, stuff envelopes, and check in participants at your walkathon. Others are interested in planning and organizing events, supporting the development of new programs, and contributing to the strategic growth of the organization.

Volunteer screening and communication are critical to matching volunteers with opportunities that serve both the organization and each individual volunteer’s goals! As part of your onboarding process, add each volunteer’s skills and talents to your database. Find out how much time they’d like to spend volunteering. And don’t forget to ask about other ways they might want to contribute!

For example, that career CPA who just joined your board might not want to be the treasurer. They might be more interested in breaking away from the numbers and being the MC or DJ at your next fundraiser! Be flexible and balance what your nonprofit needs with what each volunteer wants.

The need for volunteers in the small nonprofit community is obvious. The value of volunteers who contribute year after year is tremendous. Devote more time to these volunteer management activities to attract and retain people who are dedicated to your mission!