Happy volunteers are retained volunteers!
How many volunteers will support you this summer? For sure, there will be many who will contribute to the success of your projects over the next few months. So here’s your blog: don’t miss any chance to turn these volunteers in long-term supporters!
Volunteers are one of the main reasons why our organizations keep up with their good work. We count on them to support our beneficiaries, to assist us with admin work, to fundraise and to help with the promotion of our projects. However, we are not always able to make them feel how important their contribution is, nor give them enough incentives to keep on supporting us in the long-term.
A volunteer who doesn’t come back, who doesn’t take part in our events back home, who doesn’t follow us on social media, who never donates, is a volunteer who has forgotten about us. Someone who has lived a cool experience abroad but that, in the end, has no strong tie to our organization. Each volunteer who forgets about our mission, after having experienced first hand our hard work for community development, is a great loss.
The importance of volunteer retention
Every time we recruit a volunteer, we invest time and energies. We have to explain the socio-economical context of the intervention, we teach about our organizational structure and procedures, we give them training so that they can give their best while volunteering, and so on. There is no doubt of the fact that each volunteer pays us back working hard during his/her placement, but our efforts raising awareness and training the volunteer can have a much greater impact.
Our NGOs are always looking for more economical, practical and visibility support, and volunteers are the best allies we can find! They have seen first-hand what our challenges are, and they know our mission and ethos: they are ambassadors, donors, references and, sometimes, volunteers who come back.
It is no brainer: working towards volunteers’ satisfaction can benefit our organizations enormously, and help us grow. It is true that some of us might prefer to reimburse their efforts by asking for expensive fees for volunteering: that’s another (sad) story. Our return is the love, the trust, and the awareness that we will be able to pour into our volunteers. These feelings are long-lasting and they make volunteers our allies for a lifetime.
* in this article we refer to volunteer managers. If this role does not exist in your organization, that means you or one of your collaborators will have to assume these responsibilities!
Know your volunteers well
A good volunteer manager is able to make the most of the volunteers’ skills, but that is not possible unless he/she knows them well. Ignoring the volunteers’ strengths and weaknesses might harm the organization, leading us to big mistakes that affect our beneficiaries as much as the volunteers themselves.
And if knowing the volunteers’ strengths and weaknesses is important, it is by no means enough. Their motivation, expectations, and ambitions are just as relevant for the volunteer manager: the volunteers’ satisfaction depends on that. The candidate’s expectations must be clear before he/she travels and if we are not able to fulfill those, better to say so. For example, if a volunteer is looking for a professional development experience as a project manager for the non-profit sector, and you look for an English teacher for primary school, it is necessary to be transparent as soon as possible.
Any discrepancy between our expectations and those of the volunteer can cause serious problems during the placement and obviously frustrate any chance to build a long-term relationship. A good introductory interview can help solve all of these potential problems.
Make volunteers feel useful
Sometimes we tend to assign volunteers to the easiest tasks, or the most boring, or the same tasks over and over. Instead, we should make an effort to assign each individual to the most appropriate tasks according to his/her skills and interests, for him/her to feel motivated and useful.
Those who choose to volunteer intend to put their skills into good use and serve a cause they believe in. Undervaluing their skills, trapping them in a boring role and ignoring their suggestions and contribution can seriously undermine the whole volunteering experience. It is best to give them space to contribute with their own ideas, and thanking them for each day of service, for each suggestion and for each completed task.
Let’s give volunteers the opportunity to feel that their skills are valued and have a real impact on the communities we serve. Feeling useless, after traveling far from home and spending a considerable amount of money, is probably the worst emotion the volunteer could experience.
Give your volunteers a chance to grow
Each volunteer brings to our organizations a set of skills and experiences, that he/she wishes to share with us, in order to go back home with better skills and greater experiences. A good volunteer manager is able to encourage volunteer, helping them learn something new every day, without overwhelming them with tasks or responsibilities they are not ready for.
In fact, the volunteer manager is like a teacher that supports volunteers through new challenges, without leaving them alone or overwhelming them.
Make volunteers feel part of your team
Volunteers tend to work separately from the management team, under the supervision of a coordinator. However, if we want the volunteer to grow a special tie and affection to our organization we need to break the walls that keep volunteers and professionals apart.
The volunteer manager can require spaces for sharing ideas and information among all members of the organization, both employees, and volunteers. By doing so, the volunteer will have a clear idea of how things work: where donations come from, what is the relationship with the local government, how political changes affect the organization and so on. And the organization will benefit from new and fresh contributions: the best resources for problem-solving!
Never say farewell, always goodbye!
At the end of the placement, when the volunteer is satisfied with everything he/she has learned and done, it is necessary to leave the volunteer go. However, never say farewell, always goodbye!
Since the moment he/she leaves, give the volunteer a reason to keep in touch. Let him/her know about an event you are organizing back home, tell him/her about your next campaign, invite him/her to your next talk. Whatever you do, make sure he/she understands, he/she has become an asset for the organization and that if he/she wants, there is still so much to do!