Onboarding Volunteers: Five Tips to Improve Volunteer Retention
Posted Thursday, March 13th, 2014 by Sterling Volunteers Staff
Volunteers can help your organization connect with the community, increase the visibility of your organization, and get more done for less (or even nothing). But here’s a question you should consider: Once you’ve attracted volunteers, how do you keep them engaged with your program? The answer to this question is vital to the growth, sustainability and ultimate success of your organization.
The reality is that many volunteer programs have a hard time getting good volunteers to come back. Often, these individuals participate in one or two events, never to return again. Continuously recruiting and training new volunteers translates into tons of wasted staff hours. So how can you encourage volunteer retention right from the start?
Five Tips for Onboarding Volunteers
Onboarding is a critical first step when it comes to retaining good volunteers. At the onboarding stage, organizations can set realistic expectations regarding the type of work volunteers do within the organization. They can quickly address any questions or issues that may arise.
To help increase your volunteer retention rates, it’s essential to have a proven onboarding process in place. In her article Volunteer Onboarding: Four Ways to Convert Joiners to Stayers, volunteer management expert Tobi Johnson offers some ideas to improve your organization’s onboarding process. Here, we share and expand upon a few of her recommendations, and also add a couple of our own.
- Explain your expectations – This is one of the most important factors when it comes to setting your volunteers up for success and giving them a valuable experience, which will help to keep them coming back. Explain in detail what is expected of each volunteer, such as what tasks they may be assigned, how many hours they are expected to put in, and any policies they should uphold.
- Encourage connection – The more connected a volunteer feels to your organization, the more likely they are to continue their commitment to serve. Creating and strengthening ties between volunteers and staff, and between the volunteers themselves, can strengthen this connection. Make time for staff and volunteers to get to know each other and coordinate social events to build a sense of community.
- Show volunteers their impact – Beginning a new program or activity can be stressful, especially if volunteers are juggling their volunteer experience with a job, family, and other commitments. It’s important for organizations to show their volunteers that their time and effort are making an impact and producing tangible results. Organizations should share successes with volunteers and give evidence as to how their work is making a difference.
- Identify their strengths – No two volunteers are the same, and each has a different skill set to offer. By identifying the strengths of each individual, you can assign each volunteer to an appropriate task, maximizing their effort and their impact on the organization. Your volunteer program will benefit from the unique knowledge and expertise that each volunteer brings, and volunteers will feel more invested when they get to work in an area that interests them and makes use of their talents.
- Screen your volunteer – A critical aspect of the onboarding process is volunteer background screening. Screening helps to safeguard your organization and protect your brand and assets. It also builds trust between your organization, your volunteers and the community. Vetted volunteers are typically more reliable, dedicated volunteers.
In Onboarding, You Get What You Give.Is your organization’s onboarding program the best it can be? We’d enjoy hearing your feedback in the comments below, or feel free to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn. Tom Klein founded Sterling Volunteers and leads their mission to propel service organizations and nonprofits by empowering volunteers. Connect with Tom on LinkedIn or Google+.