Last week we discussed volunteer recruitment and retention – and both how and why it is so difficult these days. When we landed on the topic of retention, we called out one particular “deadly sin” that many organizations commit: most organizations desire long-term volunteers and they try to focus their recruitment efforts on those individuals versus those looking to contribute to short term projects. We went on to say that

“In an ideal world, your best volunteers will stay for life and help contribute to the culture and overall health of your organization. But in many cases, individuals feel more motivated and confident volunteering for a specific project with clearly outlined objectives, and both a start and finish date. That isn’t to say that they won’t continue volunteering once the project is done, but it does give them the ability to coordinate their schedules and commit to a specific goal. Retention must be earned, not expected.”

So when I happened upon a United Way post entitled What Causes Episodic Volunteers to Keep Coming Back? I found it extremely relevant and timely. I thought I would pull the main points of the post out and give you some food for thought as you think about transitioning from a focus on recruiting for long-term volunteers to a focus on both long-term volunteers and episodic volunteers.

The 3 Steps…

  1. Get your volunteers connected to your organization. Make sure they leave the volunteer event with a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment. The goal is to get them committed to your organization as opposed to simply the experience of volunteering.
  2. Make sure volunteers are in the know. We have said it time and again, but clearly defining roles and responsibilities, as well as project goals, helps set expectations for volunteers and affects their level of satisfaction with the event. 
  3. Get feedback. It’s easy for an episodic volunteer to walk away unhappy with their experience and never come back – and for you to never know why!  So make sure you are pulling this information out of the volunteer. Ask them firsthand what they thought about their experience. Also, have a staff member or dedicated volunteer actually observe the volunteer for body language, interactions, etc. They’ll be able to report back on which processes are working and which are not.

The post closed with a comment on Millennial volunteers who are known to “spread the love” in terms of time and donations across many causes and organizations.  They are less committal and more interested in doing high-impact, hands-on work. As Millennials begin to fill the volunteer pool (it’s starting to happen now!) and Baby Boomers make their way out of the pool, organizations will have to pay more attention than ever to nurturing episodic volunteers.

Think about how you and your organization can incorporate the three steps above, specifically in relation to episodic volunteers. How can you communicate better, get them feeling connected, and get them telling you what they thought? It could be the first step towards a loyal team of lifetime volunteers.



Do you recruit for episodic volunteers? Or do you only find value in more committed volunteers? Tell us what your recruiting strategy looks like and how/if you plan to change it this year. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and share your comments below.

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