Volunteers are the lifeblood of most nonprofits. In fact, 85 percent of all nonprofits in the U.S. are run entirely by volunteers. Since nonprofits need so many volunteers to manage their programs, serve their clients, conduct their events, and participate in fundraising efforts, they are constantly recruiting new volunteers. However, if nonprofit leaders spent more time trying to keep the volunteers they already have instead of always looking for new ones, their recruiting efforts could be greatly reduced.
According to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a U.S. government agency, California currently has a volunteer retention rate of 60.3 percent, ranking it 31 in retention rates among all states. Vermont tops the list with a volunteer rate of almost 76 percent and Hawaii has the lowest retention rate at less than 53 percent. That means of all the individuals who volunteered with California nonprofits in 2016, we can expect that about 40 percent of them won’t return in 2017.
Research indicates that volunteers who engage in more challenging activities, such as providing professional or managerial assistance, have a higher retention rate than those who provide general labor or transportation. In addition, the more time a volunteer spends with your organization, the greater the likelihood that he or she will return the next year. The type of organization volunteers serve makes a difference, with religious and health-related organizations seeing the highest retention rates. Plus, age matters as well, with people ages 35 and older having the highest retention rate.
In Sonoma Valley, several nonprofits have higher retention rates than the state average. The Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, a local school-based mentoring organization, is fortunate to keep their volunteers engaged over a long period of time, which is critical to the success of each mentor-mentee match. The average length of a mentoring relationship in a school-based program in the US is 5.5 months, whereas the Mentoring Alliance’s is 8 years, with some lasting over 16 years. Nationwide, about 64 percent of all mentors volunteer from year to year.
Although many people may claim the reason they don’t continue volunteering is because they lack the time, there’s really more to it than that. Research conducted by the CNCS identified five reasons that volunteers quit: (1) not matching volunteers’ skills with the right jobs; (2) failing to recognize volunteers’ contributions; (3) not measuring the tangible value volunteers offer the organization; (4) failing to train and invest in volunteers and staff; and (5) failing to provide strong leadership.
So, what can nonprofits do to keep volunteers coming back year after year? One approach might be to offer incentives. In a recent online survey of over 3,000 randomly selected volunteers, 41 percent of respondents said the following incentives, provided in rank order, would motivate them to return: (1) convenient scheduling; (2) proof that their work was making a difference; (3) professional development opportunities; (4) social/networking events; and (5) discounts/gift cards at local businesses.
However, the best way to retain your volunteers isn’t with incentives. It’s by providing effective volunteer management practices all year long. Here are ten tips to keep your volunteers onboard from year to year: (1) spend time recruiting the right people in the first place, then place them in jobs that match their skills and needs; (2) clearly define their role and expectations from the start; (3) help them see the big picture and how their volunteer service is making a difference; (4) create a personal relationship with them to truly understand what motivates them; (5) be organized and have all the tools and resources available they will need to do their work; (6) provide supportive supervision and ongoing communication; (7) include volunteers in decision-making and get their feedback; (8) provide orientation, a manual, and ongoing training; (9) create an organizational culture that values volunteers; and most of all (10) show your appreciation in multiple ways throughout the year.
Let’s make 2017 the Year of the Volunteer by providing our volunteers with the love and support they need to serve our community year after year.