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Keeping volunteers

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The secrets to ensuring your volunteers stay with your organisation.

How do you keep volunteers enthusiastic? How do you communicate with them to make them feel part of your organisation? What are the things that cause volunteer relationships to go wrong?

Investing in Volunteers

Investing in Volunteers (IiV) is the UK quality standard for good practice in volunteer management. 
If you would like to benchmark the quality of your volunteer management and involvement, prove and improve the effectiveness of your work with volunteers and enhance your organisation's reputation, Investing in Volunteers is the ideal quality standard.

Recognition of volunteer contribution

Informally, telling volunteers they are doing a great job, asking their opinions on internal developments, getting them to feel comfortable with being a part of the organisation’s social life – all are important.

More formally, volunteer events (part of Volunteers' Week maybe), where group recognition takes place, the awarding of certificates, helping volunteers gain accreditation, including volunteers in staff meetings and inviting them to be members of working groups offer possibilities. These will demonstrate a recognition both to all volunteers, staff and committee members of the importance of volunteers.

In January 2019, NCVO published a report on the volunteer experience Time Well Spent showing that the most popular form of volunteer recognition (42%) was verbal or written thanks from the organisation. There is a section on respondents’ perceptions of volunteer recognition in the report.

Solving volunteer problems and handling complaints

Problems can arise because different priorities come to the fore, volunteers don’t get the resources they think they need and money goes to a part of the organisation, other than the one they are serving. Where good support and supervision procedures are in place, problems may get solved without prolonging the difficulty.

On the other hand, a volunteer may bring a complaint about a member of staff, or vice-versa, or a client may complain about a volunteer. Volunteers need to feel complaints are handled with sensitivity and they receive a fair hearing and that the complaints/grievance procedure of the organisation will be rigorously followed. This procedure should be in writing and available to volunteers, and will ensure a consistency of response.

Letting go of volunteers

An organisation should be prepared to ‘let go’ of volunteers as well as retain them. For one or a combination of reasons some may be ‘let go’ as they have volunteered in one role for a very long time and run out of steam; for some their personal circumstances have changed to the detriment of their volunteering; others may, after all, show themselves to be unsuitable in spite of good recruitment procedures. Knowing when to let go is as important as knowing how to retain.

Unless there has been serious misconduct, a departing volunteer should receive thanks and be offered an Exit Interview opportunity. At this the totality of their volunteer experience, short or long, can be evaluated and views sought from the departing volunteer about possible improvements that might be introduced for future volunteers. Be as positive as possible so the departing volunteer will retain positive views about the organisation and not seek to lower its reputation. Try to agree the benefits the volunteer has gained whilst with the organisation and offer them appropriate support in seeking new opportunities.

Useful links

Further reading

Page last edited Jul 03, 2019

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