Are Your Volunteers Leaving? | Track It Forward

Are Your Volunteers Leaving?

Written by James McBryan

Adult volunteers can be wonderful. They can bring skills and knowledge to your organization that teenagers can’t. But sometimes, even when they initially are engaged and interested in your cause, overtime you see them participating less and less.

We previously wrote an article about how you can keep adult volunteers engaged. In this article, we outlined steps such as hosting relevant social events and relationship building activities, providing networking opportunities, recognizing your volunteers, utilizing Volunteer Time Off (VTO) and surveying. However, after trying to implement these suggestions into our own organizations, we found that these steps weren’t as helpful as we had hoped. So we went back to the drawing board to really figure out how to keep your adult volunteers engaged.

When volunteer leaders begin slipping away or skirting on their responsibilities it can really quash your goals for your organization and puts both you and your volunteer into an awkward position. You both are dreading having the “maybe it’s time to move on” conversation and you don’t want to force them out of anything.

Recently, one of our volunteer coordinators was asked to step into a leadership position on a board of directors. However, when the commitment became too much and he felt that he couldn’t give the organization the time and effort he initially anticipated, he let them know and stepped down. Having a volunteer come up to you and acknowledge that at this point in time they can’t give you everything probably won’t happen that frequently. A volunteer may find it too uncomfortable to have an honest, upfront conversation about them stepping back so instead they begin doing less and less and you have to replace them.

It’s overwhelming to try to fix everything on your own.

Below are a few things we found to help avoid that burnout.

Set term limits

Term limits ensures that volunteers are never going to be sticking along for too long. Having term limits also respects your volunteers time. Maybe when they signed up initially they had a lot of free time. But over the course of months or years, their lives have changed. Having a family, moving and career changes are just some ways that your volunteers lives may change, and holding a leadership position in a volunteer organization might fall down their list of priorities. Frequently switching out people avoids having awkward conversations and allows for a smoother transition for the next people.

Give volunteers a purpose

By trying to take on everything yourself and not leaving anything for your volunteers, you’re not letting them find their purpose or role in the organization. Training volunteers and giving people new leadership roles gives them a challenge and ensures that they aren’t stuck doing the same task every time. Giving them a way to move up the ladder is another way to re-engage and encourage volunteers to stick with something.

Give different opportunities for different age groups

Heather Johnstone, a member of our Facebook Group brought up a great point here - by creating and offering different opportunities for your volunteers, you’re more likely to find something that they’re actually interested in. No two volunteers are the same, and putting someone in a position that they’re not well suited for will only ended poorly for both of you.

Understand Why Your Volunteers Are There

Some people may have joined for social reasons, other times to give back or get something in return. Trying gimmicks to retain them won’t work in the long run. It’s important to know where your volunteers are in their ‘life cycle’. If they’re new to volunteering in your organization, they might be more willing to take on bigger tasks because they’re eager to help out. And if your volunteers are starting to burn out, you need to be okay that they might not be there forever. Appreciate the great job they did, but acknowledge that now it’s time to move on.

Establish a personal connection

When Melissa, our Customer Success Representative, got roped into tutoring, she hadn’t been given clear expectations as to what her role would look like. Although initially skeptical as to whether she would stay on as a volunteer, it was her connection with a student that caused her to come each week. This student hadn’t graduated from high school and it was his father’s dream for him to get his GED. Melissa’s friendship with Gordan established that personal connection that made her more invested in tutoring. Making sure you provide connections for your volunteers is a great way for them not only to meet new people and create friendships, but gives your organization the common ground between people to make them come back.

Overall, understand that each volunteer is different. By addressing ways to avoid volunteer burnout, your volunteers will continue to stay involved and engaged.

If you’re interested in learning more tips and tricks on dealing with all the stresses of volunteering, sign up for our newsletter!