Whether you’re planning an advocacy campaign, a new program, or an online donation drive, your nonprofit needs volunteers. But are the volunteers you recruit sticking around?

Volunteer recruitment is a challenge for many nonprofits, but fortunately, there’s a simple solution: keep as many of the volunteers you currently have as possible. Of course, this is easier said than done unless you have a reliable volunteer retention strategy.

To help your nonprofit create just that, we’ll explore some tips for cultivating long-term volunteer support. But first, let’s dive into just why retaining volunteers matters so much.

Why does volunteer retention matter?

Volunteer retention is the number of volunteers who return to continue supporting your nonprofit (in contrast to volunteers who help out just once). eCardWidget’s guide to volunteer retention provides this useful formula for calculating your retention rate:

The volunteer retention formula of # of returning volunteers divided by the total number of volunteers multiplied by 100. 

Each volunteer who returns to your nonprofit is a volunteer you don’t have to spend time finding a replacement for. This means your team can devote more resources to fundraising, marketing, and delivering services rather than plugging the holes in your volunteer team.

Plus, volunteers who stick with your nonprofit will grow their knowledge of your cause and organization. Eventually, they’ll develop the skills to work on increasingly specialized projects, take on new responsibilities, and even help train new volunteers.

5 Volunteer Retention Strategies

1. Post detailed job descriptions.

Treat volunteer postings with the same professionalism you would a job posting. Detailed job opportunities help volunteers select the roles that are most relevant to their interests and align with their schedules, increasing the chances they will like the work and continue to volunteer with your nonprofit.

In your volunteer job postings, include:

  • Required skills. Some volunteer roles require few skills. For example, a volunteer checking in attendees at an event just needs basic organizational and communication abilities to perform well in that role. However, some positions are more skill-based, which Double the Donation defines as “a form of volunteerism in which individuals use their specialized skills and professional knowledge to assist nonprofits.” In other words, if you need professional help, ensure the volunteer job posting emphasizes the specific skills required.
  • Time commitments. When are the volunteer shifts and how long are they? If you offer roles with flexible hours, add those details to the job description.
  • Benefits. Share how volunteering with your cause benefits both your volunteers and your mission. For example, you might share the opportunity to learn new skills and build connections with fellow community members in addition to explaining how each volunteer role helps your nonprofit make a difference in the community.

Detailed volunteer positions help you find more qualified volunteers. This can ease training and interview processes, as your recruitment posts will be tailored to attract your target volunteers.

2. Create a formal onboarding process.

No matter what role each volunteer has, they should undergo a formal onboarding process when they join your nonprofit. This process not only provides basic training for how to be a volunteer at your nonprofit but also serves as a welcome to your organization.

At your onboarding session, be sure to cover the following:

  • Primary responsibilities. Conduct basic training so volunteers can get prepared before jumping straight into their new roles. This applies to both highly skilled and general positions. If possible, have new volunteers shadow more experienced volunteers ahead of their first independent shift so they can see what they’re supposed to do and ask questions along the way.
  • Volunteer expectations. Volunteers represent your nonprofit, and you should go over the basics about how they are expected to behave while on the clock for your nonprofit. This might involve discussing your organization’s branding and tone for volunteers helping with awareness campaigns, whereas volunteers interacting with major donors during events and campaigns may need more extensive fundraising training.
  • Contact information. Introducing your volunteer supervisors is one of the main purposes of onboarding. Make sure volunteers know who to go to if they have questions and what the best way to reach them is.

Additionally, have a volunteer handbook ready that they can refer back to at any time. This should provide the same information your onboarding process addresses, as well as detailed information about various other parts of your nonprofit and volunteer program, such as what to do if they need to cancel a shift at the last minute.

3. Communicate consistently.

Staying in touch with volunteers helps them stay informed about their shifts and upcoming volunteer opportunities. It also shows that your nonprofit cares and thinks about them as individuals.

Many of your donor communication strategies also apply to volunteers. For example, you might reach out to volunteers by sending:

  • Texts when urgent situations arise
  • eCards and letters for special occasions, like birthdays or volunteer anniversaries
  • Routine email newsletters providing program updates

If you plan to use volunteer software or another platform to communicate with volunteers, make sure you go over how to use it. For instance, you might show them messaging tools and go over standard practices for getting in touch with their volunteer supervisor.

Communicating consistently in these ways creates a professional, organized experience that shows volunteers that you respect their time and effort.

4. Accommodate group volunteering.

Many supporters enjoy making volunteering a group activity and will sign up to work with their friends and family. Plus, you may have corporate volunteer groups who want to work together. To retain these volunteers, be as accommodating as possible in these situations. Have them undergo onboarding together and look for positions where multiple people can work together.

For large volunteer groups, encourage them to call ahead so you can schedule activities that align with your nonprofit’s priorities and can benefit from having many people work on them at once. This is especially important for corporate volunteers since these large teams will likely only return to your nonprofit if they also feel the experience helped with team-building.

While you can turn away corporate volunteer groups if necessary, accommodating them can help you earn not just volunteer support but also corporate donations. Companies may sponsor nonprofits they are familiar with due to employee volunteers, and many businesses offer volunteer grants, which are donations companies make based on how many hours their employees volunteer.

5. Show appreciation.

The strategies and principles behind donor recognition also apply to your volunteers. In fact, many volunteers who feel a strong connection to a nonprofit also become donors!

Volunteers who feel valued are more likely to stick around and continue contributing their time and effort to your cause. A few ways you can express your gratitude to your volunteers include:

  • eCards. eCards are digital postcards and are essentially an upgrade of the classic thank-you letter. Create eCards that celebrate your volunteers and have members of your team, beneficiaries, or even fellow volunteers send them out to those who go above and beyond.
  • Gifts. Small gifts here and there go a long way toward building a lasting connection. Gift your volunteers branded merchandise like t-shirts that they can wear when volunteering with your nonprofit or out and about on their time off.
  • Appreciation events. Appreciation events can be big or small in size, depending on the occasion. For example, you might decide to take a few dedicated program volunteers out to lunch, or you could host a wrap-up party for all of the volunteers who helped run a major fundraising gala.

Tailor your appreciation strategy to your volunteers. Do your volunteers like receiving physical gifts, getting time to stop and socialize with each other, or being recognized publicly for their good deeds? Consider sending out a survey or communicating individually with your most dedicated volunteers to answer this question firsthand.

Volunteers are one of your nonprofit’s most valuable assets. Invest in them by showing appreciation, creating a professional volunteer experience, and making volunteering fun and accessible.