Volunteers play an essential role in many nonprofit organizations. In 2014 alone, Americans volunteered almost 8 billion hours valued at $184 billion. In addition to their services, volunteers provide monetary support — research has shown that volunteers are almost twice as likely to donate to charity as non-volunteers.*
However, for the past decade, the percentage of Americans volunteering with an organization has been declining. What strategies can nonprofi ts employ to meet the challenge of increasing the number of volunteers and retaining them?
Be Attentive to Motives
Nonprofits can benefit by matching the wants of volunteers to the needs of the organization. There are numerous reasons individuals may want to volunteer for a particular cause. For example, younger volunteers just beginning their careers may be interested in developing their professional skills by working with an organization in a volunteer capacity. Academic credit and letters of recommendation are other inducements for this age group. And retired workers may volunteer to be part of a social network, so it may be advantageous to place them in group settings.
Make the Connection
Volunteers will feel more involved if an organization can clarify the relationship between their actions and the organization’s cause. They will feel more of a sense of accomplishment if they receive personal feedback on the impact of their actions from people who have benefited.
Provide Formal Training
Volunteers may not have the skills needed by the organization. Training can help new volunteers not only learn skills but also become more engaged as they learn more about the organization and its people. Training also can establish a minimum level of competency so that nonprofits have a better understanding of their collective skill set. To design effective training, nonprofits need to know precisely what gaps in skills volunteers can address to meet organizational goals.
Providing convenient scheduling is an effective incentive for volunteers. Time is particularly valuable to those with families and full-time jobs. Efficient use of time should be a primary goal when planning volunteering schedules. Allow volunteers’ input on what schedules and tasks are best for them. And being able to provide short-term projects that don’t require a specific time commitment may appeal to some volunteers.
Expressing gratitude to volunteers gives them the recognition that they are making a positive difference and it can be a cost-effective way of motivating volunteers to keep giving their time. There are various ways of doing so, including just saying thank you, holding an annual volunteer party, and giving awards to worthy recipients.
* Volunteering and Civic Life in America, Corporation for National and Community Service and National Conference on Citizenship, 2015