How to Retain Volunteers

How To Retain Volunteers

Have you come to this page looking for advice on how to retain volunteers? Then you will know how important volunteers are. The benefits of using volunteers are many. They are key to the successful delivery of your service. Filling all kinds of roles, they will help you help others. So you want, and need, to keep them. But this can be harder in practice than you might have hoped.

Retention is one of the challenges of working with volunteers. Your work may depend on reliable volunteer resources. If turnover is high, your impact can be put in jeopardy. It is especially important for small volunteer organisations. A small budget can make frequently recruiting volunteers too costly.

Are you concerned with how to find volunteers in the first place? If you are thinking, “I need volunteers” please see my article on where to find volunteers for advice.

Customer Lifetime Value / Volunteer Lifetime Value

In the business sector, they talk about Customer Lifetime Value (CLTR). CLR is the value that a customer has to a business during their lifetime. In voluntary organisations, a Volunteer Lifetime Value (VLTV) can be calculated. As in business, it is a useful metric. It allows organisations to measure volunteers’ time. This is not to demean the volunteer’s value. Instead, it shows how important they are to the organisation.

VLTV gives a numeric value to the outcomes volunteers achieve. It can allow you to weigh up budget options. For example, a volunteer team’s value may outweigh the expense of a Volunteer Coordinator salary. VLTV can be used to track the effectiveness of volunteer programs. Changes to programs may have an impact. This can be monitored and managed. In this way, VLTV can help improve resource and program management.

The formula for VLTV is: A x B x C


  • A = Value per hour of volunteers’ time
  • B = Average number of hours per week for all your volunteers. (To find this out divide the number of hours worked a week by the amount of volunteers working.)
  • C = Average length of stay (in years).

The formula shows how increased volunteer numbers and hours helps productivity. Length of stay also helps the organisation. For volunteers, staying longer will likely mean they gain more experience and skills.

So, to increase the value of VLTV there are three options. You can either:

  1. Increase the number of volunteers you have.
  2. Increase how many hours a week they work for you.
  3. Increase how long they stay working for you.

All the above have a huge positive impact on the outcome of the calculation.

These three options show how important it is to keep volunteers. By retaining them, you can fulfil all three of these criteria. Thus, you will greatly increase their value to your organisation.

Customer Retention Marketing

This can be used in community volunteer organizations as well as businesses. The main principle is to harness the power of marketing to keep your clients. In the case of volunteer organisations, this could include volunteers. As a charity marketing consultant, I often take proven methods from my past work with enterprise businesses and utilise them for the third sector. Customer retention marketing is one of these methods. Ways to do this include:

  • Customer service. When thinking about how to retain volunteers, look at how you treat them. Always strive to provide them with good service. They should feel both heard and helped. There should be good channels of communication between you and volunteers. A solid supervision process can be key to this. Show that you care by matching them with tasks they enjoy. Pay attention and exceed their expectations wherever you can.
  • Customer complaints. Turn these into opportunities for growth. Deal with any complaints fast. Put in place an efficient process for this. The person who complained should feel heard and respected.
  • Customer satisfaction surveys. Volunteers should feel that they can raise concerns. Running surveys shows that your volunteers’ views matter. Doing these regularly should highlight any issues that need addressing.
  • Social media. Keep your volunteers informed about what the organisation is doing. Engage with them. Social media is still so underutilised by nonprofit organisations! Just having an account and posting is pointless. You need to have a strategy in place.
  • Memorable experiences. You want your volunteers to have a good time. If they do, they will stay. Moreover, they will refer others to join you. Give your volunteers experiences worth talking about. This could be team-building events, fundraisers or days out. Volunteers enjoying their time will spread the word. Local people will come to know you by a good reputation. This will raise your profile and attract new volunteers.

Using such methods will increase volunteer satisfaction. This will encourage them to stay.

I know that for many it can be stressful considering how to retain volunteers. Knowing where to start can seem elusive. To help you, I have put together a list of steps below.

How to Retain Volunteers – 13 Steps

The steps below show the best ways I know of to retain volunteers.

Make a Good First Impression

All volunteers should receive a warm welcome (coffee and biscuits are always a plus). Explain to them how much you value their time and how it will help your work. Include introductory training – this can be as short or in-depth as you require. However, the training must be perceived by the new volunteer as being valuable. The volunteer should leave their first meeting understanding:

  • What you do
  • Where to go (give them a tour of the building if required)
  • What is expected of them
  • Who they can speak to if they have any questions or problems
  • Provide them with a written summary to take home. This will help them recall key points, inspire confidence and feel valued.

Prepare a Handbook

This can be given out at the first meeting or during initial training. The handbook should detail your organisation’s set up and vision. It should explain how volunteers will be treated. It should also explain what is required of them. Clearly define their role to avoid any doubt. Include your formal policies (e.g. paying expenses, substance abuse). This will help give a good impression and assure new recruits of your expertise. It could also prevent future issues arising.

Make Their Time With You Fun and Friendly

Ensure there are regular events for your volunteers to enjoy. These will foster a sense of community. Consider:

  • Team building events. Help build friendships so that volunteers can support each other. Volunteers in the same boat can empathise with those who are struggling. Their support may also convince people to stay if they are thinking about leaving. Keep your team building activities ideas fun and memorable.
  • Training events. These can be fun as well as informative. Think about using team tasks and challenges. These will help people learn whilst they enjoy themselves.
  • Closed forums. A moderated forum could also provide a secure place for volunteers. There they can help each other in a safe, confidential way. A secure and closed area on your website may be an option. Closed invitation-only Facebook groups may be another.


This is one of the key principles of volunteer management. Your volunteers must feel heard and their opinions respected. Look to involve them in decision-making where you can. Supervising volunteers well can help raise any issues. These should be dealt with quickly. Arrange for each volunteer to have regular meetings with their supervisor. In these, they should feedback how they are feeling. Find out what would make their experience better. If possible then adapt to improve.

Catering to volunteering interests will give you loyal volunteers. Take their ideas seriously. Follow up on any questions they have. Learn from any changes you make. If they are not enjoying their time with you address this. Any complaints should be dealt with tactfully, in line with procedure.

Note: It’s likely that some volunteers will feel uneasy about making complaints or criticisms to their supervisor directly. Consider having an anonymous ‘improvements box’ to help collect honest insights.

Be Mindful of Their Time

If a volunteer feels they are wasting their time they will leave. Do not give them unnecessary tasks to do. Their tasks should either be inline or a progression on what they originally signed up to do. Ensure it is clear why the tasks you give need doing. Volunteers can then get behind the work. Someone with passion is more committed and productive than someone without.

Give your volunteers any extra resources they need to be effective. This may include further training. Explain where they should go if they have any questions. Always be fast to assist them. Once again, your volunteers should feel supported.

Track Their Workload

Regularly ask your volunteers if they are happy with the amount they are doing. If not, look to change it. Ensure that there are always enough tasks for each volunteer. Have a list of backup jobs if needed. This will avoid them getting bored, not feeling wanted or needed.

Work to Their Strengths

This will be different for each volunteer. Assign tasks keeping in mind what each person enjoys and excels at. This will help ensure their experience with you is rewarding for all.

Be Flexible

Volunteers will have other commitments. Be mindful of this. Ensure that their volunteering is not too great of a burden. Log the amount of work that each volunteer is happy to do. Respect these limits.

Try to cater to varied time commitments. For example, with those who have small amounts of time free, give short tasks. For those who want to work long-term, get them involved in a large project. Try to have a wide range of tasks on offer for different needs.

Make It Clear How They Can Benefit

When thinking about how to retain volunteers, consider staff retention. Staff would want opportunities and benefits to keep them interested. Keeping volunteers engaged can also be achieved in this way. Moreover, it is key to developing volunteers. Developing volunteers gives you more skillsets to draw on.

Think about the benefits or training that could help your volunteers. These could be wide-ranging, including:

  • Experience for their CV
  • For them to train or retrain in specialist skills
  • Meeting new people
  • Confidence-building
  • Simply enjoying volunteers week events as part of National Volunteers Week
  • Make these benefits clear – both to new and current recruits.

Say Thank You

Everyone likes to feel appreciated. Volunteers are the same. Their time is valuable and they have chosen to give it to your cause. Praise them whenever possible. Reward them, perhaps with a certificate, an event or a new role. Keep records of numbers (e.g. their work changed the lives of 50 people). Share these figures, both with them and the public. Show your volunteers how they are part of the big picture. And always recognise how vital they are to your success.

Hire a First-Rate Volunteer Coordinator

I cannot stress enough how vital this role is. A good Volunteer Coordinator will serve to organise your volunteer base. They will track volunteering interests and assign tasks accordingly. These individuals work hard to preserve your good name. It is not easy working with volunteers. Coordinators are at the forefront of managing volunteers and their needs. Without one, it is much harder keeping volunteers motivated. A friendly, capable Coordinator will have a positive impact on your volunteers’ experiences. This will help keep as well as manage them.

Create an Environment of Positivity

Share any volunteer success stories with other volunteers and the local community. This will boost morale, promote your cause and help recruit more volunteers. Train your staff to always be positive about your organisation. Moaning from insiders can put people off. A friendly demeanour also goes a long way. Greet your volunteers with a smile. Be upbeat about the tasks you have for them. This can help them feel valued and cement the good time they are having.

Be Positive When Volunteers Leave

This is as important as when they arrive. Even though we are exploring how to retain volunteers, inevitably you will have volunteers leave at some point in time. Try to ensure they do not leave unhappy. They could then put others off joining in the future. Unless there has been gross misconduct, all volunteers should receive thanks. Also, offer them an exit interview. This can help you learn where you can improve and address any problems. Be positive throughout this process. This will help create a long-lasting good impression.

I hope that you have found these ideas helpful. My work specialises in helping charities and not-for-profits recruit and retain volunteers. If you would like to discuss how I can support your organisation, please get in touch.