Retaining volunteers

Organisations are obviously keen to keep volunteers, primarily because they need and value their help but also because they have invested time and effort in inducting and training them. Managing volunteers effectively and providing them with adequate support helps to retain them.

It’s important for managers to get to know their volunteers. This means taking time to understand what they enjoy about volunteering and any concerns they may have about the role or the organisation. A manager may be coordinating several hundred volunteers so finding the time to talk to each individual or group may be difficult. However, ensuring they are given opportunities for giving and receiving feedback on their work is essential. There are different ways of getting feedback from your volunteers. Traditional methods include questionnaires, interviews and focus groups. Having regular drop-in meetings for volunteers is also helpful. When volunteers resign, it is good practice to hold an exit interview to find out why they are leaving and also their thoughts on their time with the organisation.

There are many ways that organisations show their appreciation of their volunteers. Informally, telling volunteers they are doing a great job, asking their opinions on internal developments, getting them to feel comfortable with being a part of the organisation’s social life – all are important. More formally, annual volunteer events (perhaps part of Volunteers’ Week [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ), where group recognition takes place, the awarding of certificates and badges, helping volunteers gain accreditation, including volunteers in staff meetings and inviting them to be members of working groups all demonstrate a recognition both to all volunteers, staff and committee members of the importance of volunteers (Knowhow Nonprofit, 2016).

Why is engaging (or motivating) volunteers important? As with paid work, volunteers will generally want to do activities they find satisfying and rewarding. Volunteers are not dependent on the organisation they work for and are not tied by a formal employment contract. As a result, volunteers are usually freer than employees to pick and choose the organisation to which they give their time and efforts. If organisations do not provide an appealing environment and motivating work, they are likely to experience problems of recruitment and retention.

Activity 7

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes.

List at least four factors that have persuaded you to work hard and enthusiastically (in a paid or unpaid capacity), and four that have discouraged you and made you work less energetically and less willingly. You may want to list these factors in two groups for easier comparison: motivating factors and demotivating factors.


There are many possible factors that could be listed here. The purpose of this activity is to reveal to you the complexity of motivation and the range of factors that can influence it.

  • Motivating factors: if you are in paid work, would it be true to say that although pay might have been listed, it was not necessarily the dominant factor, and the really important factors related to the nature of the work itself and how you felt about it – things like the ‘buzz’ that you got doing the work or that you felt you were contributing to a worthwhile service. You might get on well with your colleagues and that might motivate you through any challenging times. Other factors might include: good training, skills development and support for further learning; clear career progression; supportive and understanding managers; regular new projects; networking opportunities; events or meetings away from the office.
  • Demotivating factors: these are less related to pay than to the circumstances in which you are expected to work – such as being fed up with being ‘messed around’, not liking the way things were going, or a lack of support from colleagues; uncertainty about future funding; temporary contracts; constant change; high staff turnover leading to more work for those left behind; poor working conditions such as a cramped office or old equipment; or, perhaps, you felt that your contribution was not being recognised and acknowledged.

If you work in an unpaid capacity, you may have written down similar issues, so perhaps motivation between volunteers and paid staff is not so different?