Recruiting and engaging volunteers is one thing, but how do you retain them once they are through the door and completed basic training? Having a wide diversity of volunteers brings a community and richness that adds value beyond words.
For organisations that rely on volunteers, recruiting and engaging those volunteers becomes a key performance indicator for that ‘business’. I say business because any organisation set up to provide services must be solvent, and that means making a profit or surplus – or no investment to keep providing services can be made.
Using volunteers is simply a more cost effective way of engaging people to deliver your services without the full commercial cost. But having volunteers is not free. There are costs to be incurred. These costs include, but are not limited to: travel, training, their management etc. There is an emotional cost too. I will come back to that later.
Focus on recruitment
Many charities and not-for-profits seem to be focused on a never ending drive to recruit new volunteers. There is nothing wrong with this, but is it the right strategy? Is this strategy working? Is it sustainable? Is there a more cost effective way?
Calculating volunteer costs
The Institute of Volunteering Research (IVR) publish a guide VIVA (Volunteer Investment and Value Audit) which enables organisations to accurately measure the economic impact of volunteering by examining their individual situations. VIVA also estimates an hourly wage rate based on the type of volunteering work being undertaken. For further information www.ivr.org.uk
How to throw good money away
I have seen several volunteer led organisations recruit large numbers of people, spend a lot on money on their training and equipment. Only for that investment to stop at the point when investment is at its lowest. Retention.
What can we learn from Customer Service research?
It is said that gaining a new customer is as much as 4 times more expensive than retaining an existing one. I believe the same is true for volunteers. Maybe the cost is even more.
Recruiting and engaging volunteers – Let’s look at a case study example
A volunteer joins you as a young person. They give some time and gain some basic training and skills. They give you a lot of time. As each year passes they give more than 10 times the amount of time they get in training. With each training they become more skilled and of more value. They keep giving. Often 100s if not 1000s of hours per year.
Over the years, they see managers and employees come and go. They see different ‘business strategies’ come and go. But they remain loyal volunteers. participating in training. Giving 100s of hours per year.
Over time, these long term volunteers not only give their time, but they become part of your training team. reducing the cost for you to train new volunteers. They both invest in the new volunteers, and give time to the ‘core’ organization.
Then something happens. You change your staffing and volunteer support approach. At the same time, the volunteer needs time out for family reasons.
A little while later the volunteer wants to re-engage. they still have all the skills you need. but they cannot find the right people to talk to. WORSE. The organization failed to keep a welfare check on the volunteer in their ‘time out’. The organization failed to recognise the importance of retention.
This is a wast of time, money and opportunity.
Of course this would NEVER happen in your organization… would it?
How to retain volunteers
Recruiting and engaging volunteers is just one step. Many charities and not-for-profits and similar organizations have recruitment strategies. But what about a ‘how to retain volunteer strategy’? Is it on paper? Or is it a focused activity of the teams that manage your volunteers. It is very easy for inexperienced managers and team leaders to focus on ensuring enough volunteers for the required activity. But how much of their time is in the social aspects of retention?
Volunteers give their time for a wide range of reasons. Having a strategy to ensure you are engaging volunteers on a regular basis is critical. Volunteers usually give their time for a range of narrow reasons. One of the key reasons why people KEEP volunteering is the social aspect of what they gain. People need to FEEL valued. They needs their recognition at an emotional level. Not a tangible one.
What REGULAR activities are you doing to actively retain your people? Do your volunteers feel important? Do they feel VALUED? Do they feel that they are making a difference.
When will charities learn?
Recruiting and engaging volunteers is increasingly important in many societies. Indeed increasingly the social support offered in many areas is reliant on it. Even governments recognise this and provide incentives to charity organizations, as governments realise that it is a cheaper way of providing social care and support. This is only sustainable if the charities spend as much time, if not more on actively retaining their volunteers, than recruiting new ones.
When was the last time you had a purely social event for your people. Was it an annual event? Is it a weekly thing? Has your organization become so delivery based that it treats its volunteers more like employees? WE need to remember that volunteers have choices. Our goal is to help them chose to spend their spare time with us!
Don’t neglect long term volunteers
It is sad to say that in the last 2 years, I know of several people that have stopped volunteering because of complete disengagement by the charity. They lost over 150 years of volunteer experience. That is expensive. Especially when those same people could have easily have given another 100+ years. This is just a handful of people. Think of the cost of the loss. Not only to the organization. But the emotional reasons the individuals had to break such long term commitments. Long term volunteers do not leave easily. Recruiting and engaging volunteers for the long term must be the goal.
Just because you have recruited and engaged volunteers, does not mean they will stay! One charity in the humanitarian sector can recruit 18yr olds easily. But for some reason they only stay for 3 years. the organisation cannot understand why. They keep throwing resources at them. the reality is most of those people need that ‘volunteering’ experience to get their university courses!!! Fine, but recognise that and limit costs, don’t assume that audience will be around for a long time.
Do you follow up each leaver, invite them for a one-to-one coffee or dinner. and really understand what went wrong?
Recruiting is easy.. but expensive
Retention is harder… but much more cost effective.
Recruiting and engaging volunteers what is your strategy? How will you retain them?