March 13, 2016

Staying Engaged

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Managing Volunteers, Recognition of Volunteering, Relationships, Trends in Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , at 2:46 am by Sue Hine

After the excitement of the recruitment phase and the pronouncements of a new intake of volunteers, what are the factors that will keep them on track and stay engaged?

There are many laments from organisations about the ready dis-engagement of volunteers, and their apparent lack of commitment, as reported in Volunteering New Zealand’s first report on the State of Volunteering.

Yes, you can feel miffed that volunteers go through the application and screening process and then don’t show up for training.  Yes, it can be costly to train volunteers only to find they don’t sign up for a role, or a make short-lived appearance.  Yes, it is disappointing when people volunteer in order to gain work experience only to shoot off when they get a job.

Yes, the nature of volunteering is changing: more people look for task-focussed and time-limited assignments.  But that does not mean volunteer effort is always a ‘one-off’ or short-lived.

It all gets a bit difficult when there’s so much to do in running a volunteer programme and the volunteers come and go. So what are the initiatives that could counter all these glum pronouncements?  Here’s a list of best tips to make the most of volunteers, whether they are short-term or stayers.

  • Being very clear about expectations is a good start, especially with role definitions and time commitment – yet allowing space for negotiation on how and when the time and tasks will be given.
  • Show volunteers, in a hundred different ways, that they are valued and their work appreciated.
  • Exit Interviews can be a means to explore reasons for leaving and feedback on the volunteer experience and programme management.  Whether in a questionnaire format or a face-to-face meeting, finding out more about the volunteer’s experience and inviting feedback on the programme can show where improvements could be made.  You might have to be a bit searching to uncover comments like ‘don’t like the work’, ‘nobody talks to me’, ‘too many rules’, ‘not what I expected’ that underlie the ‘no time’ reasons.
  • Offer alternatives to those who talk of leaving, such as less frequent assignments, or different roles, or ways to keep their interest like receiving newsletters or joining a ‘Friends of’ group.  Because even if those young people and busy parents of young children don’t stay long they have been exposed to volunteering and to the organisation’s services, and chances are they will come back to volunteering at some stage.
  • Develop a plan for volunteer ‘career development’, as in assigning team leadership roles.  Offer extra training, or ‘support group’ meetings.  One of my best volunteer experiences was a regular check-in on how things were going, creating a bonding with other volunteers and enhancing links with the organisation.
  • Work on new initiatives, designed for volunteers to try out new ways of service delivery.  And take up volunteer suggestions and good ideas.  That is how many an organisation got started, and maybe it is time for a re-boot.

Of course none of us take for granted that each new volunteer will stay forever.   The question is: what are we doing to keep them engaged, and how can we adjust organisation needs to maintain volunteer commitment?

Like all relationships, whether romantic engagements or employment contracts, it takes thought and effort to keep volunteers keeping on.  Don’t let them give up with easy excuses.


  1. Awesome post Sue, as always. I know I have been guilty of gleefully recruiting volunteers before engagement is in place and of course that lead to losing potentially great volunteers. You have some excellent points on keeping volunteers engaged!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Hine said,

      Not really anything new here Meridian. I regret that we have to keep repeating these points.


  2. DJ Cronin said,

    Thanks for an insightful article Sue. And while I note your regret that we keep repeating these points they are worth repeating until they sink in! I would just like to share a recent engagement experiment I implemented. I found one great tool to Volunteer Engagement was Volunteers Engaging volunteers! Yep, I recruited a team of 9 volunteers to assist me in Volunteer Engagement!

    Since January this year the Volunteer Engagement Team have

    • Engaged with 100 callers to a Volunteer Hotline we have set up
    • Participated at Several University “O” week events
    • Engaged with all volunteer coordinators in Melbourne
    • Begun assisting in gap assessment project on National Standards on Volunteering
    • Interviewed stakeholders on a prospective Volunteering Framework Project
    • Begun Planning for National Volunteer Week
    • Completed Training to provide Volunteering Session to all new staff at Orientation each month
    • Commenced Training to present the 3 hour volunteer induction for Volunteers each month
    • Set up a plan to engage new volunteers across the organisation (Watch this space)
    • Been Preparing to present a key workshop to staff on Volunteering during National Volunteer Week
    • Have Engaged with all Volunteer Resource Centres in Victoria

    All university students, all committed and all full to the brim with innovative ideas! So my suggestion to anyone looking for better Volunteer Engagement is to build a Volunteer Engagement Team of Volunteers! It can work!


  3. Sue Hine said,

    Good stuff here DJ – thanks for putting up these innovative practices. You remind me of my motto: “Never do anything that a volunteer could do perfectly well if you asked them”.


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