Why Volunteers Quit & How to Potentially Prevent It | Track It Forward

Why Adult Volunteers Quit and How to Keep Them Motivated

Last updated by James McBryan on 03/13/2021

Adult volunteers are so much more difficult to motivate than the youth.  They might say they are there for creating an impact, but then they just disappear after one volunteer experience.  What gives?  Or maybe they were there for 1 term and then split.  Did the organization miss an opportunity to retain them?  Could the organization have prevented them from leaving?


Honestly, the answer is yes.  


Volunteers usually get involved to create an impact, but the reason they stay is really tied to what they want in their life at the moment.  Unfortunately, they don’t typically communicate these reasons either!  Below are some motivation tips I’ve learned in my organizations that have helped retain these adult volunteers.


Host relevant social events & relationship-building activities


Most adult volunteers are usually too busy with family and work to have their ideal social life.  But volunteering is a great way to meet like-minded people, and if they like the people, they’ll love volunteering. There’s a quote I definitely live by: “True happiness doesn’t come from what you do, but from you who do it with.”  And that quote definitely applies to adult volunteers.  If you’re not organizing social events, you should be, and when you do organize one, don’t just throw one together.  Find out what kind of social events your volunteers would like to participate in to build closer bonds with one another.


One my friends Nick Burdick, author of The Practice Habit and the Executive Director of the Fremont Symphony, says that their symphony's guild of volunteers really looks forward to their exclusive luncheons that are completely centered around a social atmosphere.


Provide access to unique networking opportunities


Networking?! Most people run from that word because it’s hard!  But when it’s easy, and you get a lot out of it, networking is suddenly the most beautiful thing in the world.  If you have an organization with a variety of professionals, they would likely love to partake in an event where networking was emphasized.  For example, one volunteer board I know is full of NBA basketball players and getting in on an event with them is priceless.  If you don’t have members with that kind of clout, invite an influencer who your volunteers would like to meet to do a brown bag lunch or some other event.  You could invite an author, a CEO of a large company, or a social media personality.  You can make these exclusive events for a certain echelon of volunteers to really motivate them to volunteer more.


Don’t overlook simple recognition


Most adults don’t volunteer just to be recognized, but no one ever turns away or detests recognition.  Get used to recognizing volunteers on a regular basis, whether it be quarterly or monthly.  If you’re tracking hours, let the volunteers see a leaderboard of all the work of the top volunteers.  If you really want to make an impact, pick one of the top leaderboard volunteers and do an article about them, about what makes them tick, about their own personal narrative.  This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s hardly done and when it is done, the positive impact is massive.


Go from impact to legacy with interviews


So your volunteers came for your mission, but how do they know what kind of impact their work has had?  How do they know their time was well spent?  I’ve seen organizations provide annual reports with big graphs and objective numbers or send general thank you cards to the group of volunteers as a whole, but none of those efforts really resonate with why the volunteer came out in the first place.  The volunteers want the emotional satisfaction of knowing that their specific actions made a specific impact.  Get super personal, and get direct testimonials and interviews about a volunteer and the work they’ve done.  Show the volunteer how just one life is changed because of them.  For example, if you provided mentoring to the youth, have the child talk about how that mentoring has changed their life.  Or if you provide maintenance for a park, interview random patrons and find out what it means to them about the work a certain individual did.  And then share that with everybody.  It’s really powerful.


Bring awareness to VTO benefits


You've probably heard of PTO (Paid Time Off), but there is also VTO (Volunteer Time Off) that more and more employers are providing.  However, it can sometimes take a bit of time for an employee to connect these dots and realize this benefit is available to them.  If you can help bridge the information gap by educating your volunteers on VTO benefits and encouraging them to check if their employers have an existing policy, your team won't need to choose between their busy work schedule and their volunteer time, because they will be one in the same.  Here's the best article I found online that describes the importance of VTO.


Gimmicks are great, but they come last


It’s easy to default to patches, titles, and pins.  I love them.  When I was in Boy Scouts I received hundreds of them and I have them displayed on 3 shelves at home.  They are super effective, but they are like the icing on top of the cake.  The last 4 things I mentioned are all related to human connection, and giving away inanimate objects doesn’t focus on that.  They can enhance but do not replace human connection.


If you don’t think any of these ideas will work for your organization, the easiest thing to do is run a survey.  Ask open-ended questions about why they volunteer and what would get them to volunteer more.   If you need help running a survey or have any other suggestions, please add a comment below and I’ll help you out!