Another important aspect of managing volunteers which is often overlooked, is how to retain your volunteers. You need to hang onto them once you’ve found them! The reasons for losing volunteers may be the result of external or internal factors:
External – factors over which you have no control:
· Your funding has changed, or come to an end
· Your project/organisation has to close
· They have been offered paid work
· Childcare responsibilities
· Long-term sickness
· Moving out of the area
Internal – factors which you may have control over:
- Lack of support
- Being taken for granted
- No training
- No opportunities for development
- Not feeling welcome and part of the team
- No opportunities to be involved in decision-making
- Lack of stimulation
- Under-utilised skills
- Feeling their efforts are wasted
- Lack of variety
- Not being given opportunity to express their views and make suggestions
What can I do to retain volunteers?
Ask them! There may be simple things you can do to stop the volunteer leaving.
The following are basic elements of volunteer management, which are all important for volunteer retention:
- Induction – make it informative and interesting – get off on the right foot
- Initial Development & Training Plan for the volunteer – if they wish to progress. (Not all volunteers will wish to do so, but it must be offered to those who do)
- Development & Training Plan review and regular supervision sessions at 3 months, 6 months and every 6 months thereafter
- Team/volunteer meetings on a regular basis (these may be social or work-focussed)
- Consultation and communication
- Ongoing support from the volunteer’s mentor/supervisor
Regular supervision and support are essential for ALL volunteers. Even if they only have supervision sessions every 3 or 6 months, they should be encouraged to contact their supervisor/manager if they have any problems or queries, rather than leaving them until the next supervision session. This can prevent minor issues developing into larger ones and the volunteer deciding to leave.
Below are some suggestions from local volunteer managers on what works for them!
- Feel included, valued
- Thank them! Pampering/events
- Pay expenses where possible
- Support them
- Opportunity to progress if wanted
- Group volunteer meetings
- Have just enough to do, not too much
- Include in Christmas meals
- Ask them for ideas
- Be aware of friction between volunteers
- Publicising achievements – newsletter
- Other support available if you’re not there!
Organisations should take a personal interest in their volunteers. If they phone in to apologise for absence due to illness, bereavement etc, ask them how they are. Building links can help prevent crises from developing. Volunteer Co-ordinators need to have clear systems stating when they are available to offer support, however, there are other practical methods Volunteer Co-ordinators can take to support their volunteers:
- new volunteers can be buddied with established volunteers
- regular volunteer meetings can be held, with or without staff being present, they could perhaps start their own support group
- regular social events, allowing volunteers to get together either on their own or with staff, trustees etc
- newsletters can be produced as a support method to highlight good practice and inform volunteers what’s new
If the Volunteer Co-ordinator/Manager is to be absent for a period of time, always ensure another person is designated to support volunteers as required.
The Volunteer Co-ordinator or member of staff responsible will, normally carry out supervision of volunteers.
Levels of supervision required may vary and will depend upon:
- how often you see the volunteer personally
- how often you are in contact with them personally
- how long they have been with you (you may see new volunteers frequently or have a probationary period when you see them at defined stages)
- what type of work they do and where their voluntary work is carried out
- whether the volunteer already has extra support needs
A designated member of staff should supervise volunteers but all members of staff/volunteers should offer support when the need arises. It is vital to make all staff aware of the role volunteers play – volunteers are not a threat, their support is vital to an organisation and they should be treated and supported accordingly.
Issues to Consider
Always put the volunteer at their ease and select the venue carefully:
- Ensure that you will have privacy and not be interrupted
- Does the volunteer have issues they wish to raise?
- How are relations with staff, other volunteers, service users, Management Committees?
- Are the communications systems within the organisation adequate?
- Are there practical problems emerging in relation to expenses, health & safety, basic equipment needs etc?
- Are there any policy issues over which the volunteer or supervisor has concerns e.g. equal opportunities, introduction of new legislation?
- Would the volunteer benefit from training to develop, refresh or enrich their contribution?
- Are there comments on the way the agency operates?
- Does the volunteer have any personal matters they wish to raise?
Organisations with specialist roles may employ external supervisors for staff and volunteers for example, if volunteers are dealing with extremely sensitive issues, it may be good to obtain the assistance of trained counsellors to further support them.
The diversity of people wishing to volunteer is extremely beneficial to organisations, as they will ultimately always bring a multitude of skills together with new and refreshing ideas. However, when in support of volunteers do not forget their diversity – support each volunteer (practically/emotionally) according to their needs and/or requirements.
For more info on managing volunteers, please look at: guidelines-on-managing-volunteers