Volunteers: Retaining Them for the Long Haul
At the Zoo
A man was delivering penguins to the zoo when his van broke down on the highway. A fellow stopped to see if he could be of assistance. “Oh, I’m in some real trouble here” said the first man. “I’ve got to take these penguins to the zoo today, and now I’m not sure I’ll get there.”
The helpful fellow volunteered to put the penguins in the back of his car and take them to the zoo. The man with car trouble gratefully accepted this offer and promised to get to the zoo as soon as possible.
A little later, the man was on the road again and went immediately to the zoo. He looked everywhere but did not see the helpful fellow or any of the penguins. In a panic, he drove back into town. Just as he was wondering what in the world to do next, he saw the “volunteer” walking across the street with all the penguins waddling along behind him.
He ran up and said, “What are you doing here? I thought you were going to take the penguins to the zoo!” and the volunteer replied, “I did, and we had such a good time there, we decided to come into town for ice cream.”
Moral: When working with volunteers, clear instructions and good training is always necessary.
— Author Unknown
The joke shared above is humorous, but the moral is absolutely one of the top reasons that an event experiences high turnover with their volunteers. Recruiting a new volunteer must be one of the most difficult jobs committee members face. It should only be difficult for a first-year event that individuals are not familiar with. However, it can be a continual struggle for events that have been around for years, as well. Why let all your time and energy spent recruiting go down the drain, only to have to start again the following year? Make sure your volunteers know they are appreciated with these Volunteer Appreciation Ideas!
View Them as a Valuable Employee
Training a volunteer should be like training a new employee. You want those contributing to your company to feel knowledgeable, appreciated, and engaged; otherwise chances are they won’t show up for work the next day. Volunteers are no different, other than there is no paycheck at the end of the day. Their “paycheck” instead becomes the feeling of doing something good for a greater cause; that they helped make a difference. So . . . set them up for success from the get-go and they will be asking YOU if they can return the next year, instead of begging them!
Give Clear Expectations
Probably one of the worst mistakes you can make with a new volunteer is sugar coating their job description. You need to be upfront from the start with expectations otherwise your volunteers will feel you tricked them into helping. Have a clear outline of the tasks they will be handling, the number of hours they will be working, if meals are provided, etc. The more information you provide from the beginning, the less chance of disgruntled volunteers later. Outlining your expectations in a document they sign, minimizes the risk that they missed something you told them. (And a rule for you: Don’t overstep the boundaries of the job description you promised. Sign your own accountability document if you need it!)
Underwhelm the Training
Once you have volunteers on board, take the time to train them properly. The key to success here is to be clear, purposeful, and underwhelming. Making a job seem more complicated than it needs to be, will certainly send a volunteer running. Start the training off slow, allowing everyone to meet each other and understand the purpose of your event and how the team will be working together. Pair down the training from here to be focused on their specific job. Make sure you are not feeding them too much information at once. It may be more work for you, but holding shorter trainings over an extended period will allow for better retention than a two hour long crash course (and ensure they leave the penguins at the zoo!) Lastly, make sure their tasks are purposeful and well suited for their personality. There really is a job for everyone, it’s more about making sure you give the right job to the right person. Meaning, don’t give the introvert the job of selling raffle tickets, while the extrovert is tasked with putting programs on chairs. Chances are they will both un-volunteer for next year in a flash.
Appreciate Their Efforts
The last piece to the retention puzzle involves showing your appreciation. As mentioned earlier, volunteers are not paid; so demonstrating your gratitude for them showing up should be a top priority. Here are some of our best volunteer appreciation ideas. Welcome your volunteers feedback on how they felt about their jobs or how they feel it could be (or even the event could be) improved. Show genuine gratitude by looking to implement changes based on their suggestions/concerns. Make sure they are just as well taken care of as your attendees, give them meals, breaks, little gifts; whatever is appropriate for your style of event. And most importantly, don’t let them fall off the radar when the event is over. Keep them connected throughout the year. Send them a birthday card, updates on how the money they helped raised is being spent, or a $5 gift card to Starbucks just because they are awesome! It’s the little unexpected things that make someone feel special, appreciated and a part of a team that is making a difference.
Volunteers are the backbone to a great event and finding them is hard work! Have clear expectations, train them well with meaningful jobs, and show your appreciation for their efforts and your retention rate is sure to skyrocket!
Having troubles retaining volunteers? Are they not engaged? Come with your pain points and CEO, Danielle Snelson will help guide you to success with your volunteers. Sign up and receive four 1 on 1 30-minute consultations with CEO, Danielle Snelson for only $200. Members receive a $50 discount. Danielle has the best Volunteer Appreciation Ideas!
Melissa | Content Creator & Resource Developer | TheFundraisingMethod.com | firstname.lastname@example.org