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Top Five Tips To Keep Nonprofit Volunteers Coming Back

In the aftermath of the pandemic, many small businesses have shifted gears toward community service and fundraising. This transformation has not only nurtured the spirit of giving but also bolstered the independent sector. At the heart of this change are the unsung heroes — the volunteers.

If you run a volunteer program, are on the board of directors for a community service group, or work with a for-profit engaged in community work, knowing how to keep volunteers returning is a valuable trait. Many nonprofits spend countless paid staff hours recruiting and looking for nonprofit volunteers to work, only to have the volunteers quit after a few sessions. Here are our top five tips for keeping volunteers.

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1. Figure Out and Tap Into the Nonprofit Volunteers' Motives

Many directors of nonprofit organizations fail to realize that most volunteers give their time because they have good hearts and are trying to do something good for the community. Also, many nonprofit volunteers have other reasons for giving their time and efforts. Perhaps they are new to the area and want to make more friends, or they are looking for a new outlook on life. Whatever it is, if you put them at a menial task all day where they are isolated, they are less likely to come back.

Have a general questionnaire that has areas such as, "What are you looking to get from this experience?" Have the volunteers write down as much as they want. If your nonprofit volunteers feel that they are getting something back in return for their free work, they will be more likely to come back.

Just as business taps into customer needs, understanding the motives behind your volunteers is essential. Some may volunteer for mental health benefits, wanting to feel connected and valued. Others might be employee volunteers from a for-profit wanting to offer help to the community. Some are mentors wishing to guide. Others are providers, like health care professionals, desiring to offer beneficial services. Recognizing their motivations helps in strategic planning to cater to their interests.

2. Explain Your Expectations to the Nonprofit Volunteers at the Outset

Clear communication from the start is vital. When recruiting volunteers, be upfront about what their roles will entail. Whether it's advocacy work, assisting with income tax returns for the community, or participating in fundraising, volunteers appreciate clarity. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has specifications on how volunteer hours should be documented. Being upfront ensures no surprises and lets volunteers match their skills with your needs.

You should take the time to explain in detail what is expected of every volunteer before they are expected to perform the tasks you set for them. Many nonprofit organizations give their volunteers a manual that explains what duties will be expected of them. This manual could include material that outlines:

  • What kinds of hours is the volunteer expected to put in, including contact numbers in case the volunteer will be late or sick
  • The organization's commitment to making the volunteer's time both beneficial to the community as well as the volunteer themself
  • The basic policies of the office that cover both volunteers and regular staff, such as personal calls and the use of the office's equipment

Lastly, you should always be ready to praise volunteers for good work and provide advice on how other volunteers can do better. As with most jobs, a worker always feels better knowing that they performed a job well. In addition, by phrasing advice in a constructive way, a volunteer will be more likely to take the advice to heart instead of getting offended and not coming back.

3. Make Sure That Volunteering Is Not Burdensome

You should be mindful of a volunteer's time when creating volunteer schedules. For instance, many nonprofits have found that the best source for weekday volunteers comes from freelance workers who do not always have projects running. However, if a freelancer is free on a Wednesday afternoon one week, it does not mean that they will be free that same time next week.

It is a good idea to get a general commitment of hours from every volunteer that you have. However, you need to be very flexible when it comes time to make the volunteer's schedule. Remember, you are asking a lot from them; a little flexibility is not too much to give in return.

4. Make It Fun!

This is not to say that you need to greet all nonprofit volunteers with a treat bag filled with goodies each day, but you should keep in mind that some tasks will be more fun than others. As an example, photocopying a 200-page trapped kitten manual is less fun than going out and using the manual when it comes time to rescue the trapped kittens.

However, you have to balance the fun activities with the amount of experience that each volunteer brings. Be sure that no volunteer is asked to do more than they can handle.

5. Show the Love

No matter what field your nonprofit organization works in, you can be sure that every volunteer that you have wants to know that they are making a difference. To ensure that your nonprofit volunteers keep coming back, be sure to:

  • Thank them for doing a good job
  • Hold volunteer appreciation events at regular intervals, such as a monthly volunteer luncheon where you can also talk about upcoming volunteer opportunities
  • Invite good volunteers to other events that your organization holds like happy hours, holiday parties, etc.
  • Give out awards to outstanding volunteers at these events, such as something for the volunteer who gave the most hours in the year

Speak to a Legal Expert

Volunteer management can be tricky and frustrating. If you are running a nonprofit organization, you may have legal questions. Many lawyers specialize in charitable organizations and can assist you with your inquiries. Speak to a business and commercial law attorney in your area today.

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