Idea 25: Keep volunteers involved.

If you’ve used many of the other ideas for good practice, you’ll already be doing things that keep volunteers involved. Thanking them, letting them know that they’re making a difference and contributing to the community, developing or strengthening their skills, providing them with opportunities to make decisions, supporting their efforts, paying attention to their needs and motivations, and including them as part of the organization’s team all contribute to volunteer retention.

Research (Volunteer Canada, 2010) shows that some of the things that current and past volunteers disliked about their experience were: perceived organizational politics, belief that their skills were not being put to best use, feeling like they weren’t making a difference, and frustration with lack of organization related to the volunteer activity. These are pitfalls to be avoided.

The same research suggests that focusing recruitment and retention efforts on past volunteers may be the most effective way of expanding the volunteer base.

Voices from the field:

  • Volunteers need to be continually motivated in order for them to stay on. Think about how to motivate them (recognition / pro D) etc.
  • If I knew then what I know now, I would have set up a system of achievements and accomplishments for volunteers much earlier. Giving them milestones to reach truly keeps them engaged. Things like ‘volunteer spotlights’ in newsletters and other features highlighting their volunteer work are incredibly valuable in retaining people.
  • Communicate process, changes, successes, challenges; share the vision; when applicable invite them to be part of the planning; celebrate; keep it fun; show appreciation continuously; be clear on expectations; provide adequate and timely training.
  • Creating a community of volunteers through coming together has been key for us.
  • Tutor trainings, workshops on specific topics tutors what to learn about and tutor gatherings all help to keep volunteers involved. We would much rather have tutors waiting for learners than the other way around. For this reason it is important to have opportunities for tutors to still be active in the program while they wait for a learner to be matched with them.

To learn more:

Fader, S. (2010). 365 ideas for recruiting, retaining, motivating and rewarding your volunteers: a complete guide for nonprofit organizations. Ocala, Fla.: Atlantic Publishing Group.
» Includes a chapter on volunteer empowerment.

Harrow, S., Leggett, M., Robertson, S., Townsend, L. & Davduik, S. (2005). Building capacity to attract and retain literacy volunteers: a research report. Toronto, ON: Imagine Canada.
» This research report looked at motivations and experiences of current and former READ Saskatoon tutors and makes recommendations for steps to increase capacity to recruit and retain literacy volunteer tutors.

Lynch, R. (2009 ) Volunteer retention and feelings of connection. Retrieved from
» Volunteer retention is enhanced when a good relationship exists between volunteers and staff. This article lists inadvertent actions that reduce volunteers’ connections with organizations. It then suggests ways to create a positive sense of connection.

Voo, A. & Kaattari, J. (2010). Literacy volunteers: value added: retention strategies. Retrieved from
» Research results on what literacy agencies in Ontario do to retain volunteers with a link to retention strategies.

Last updated: June 28, 2012