5 Volunteer Retention Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Volunteer retention is crucial for nonprofits and other organizations that rely on volunteer support. It’s much more cost-effective to retain your current volunteers rather than constantly spend your marketing dollars on recruiting new supporters.  

Plus, your current volunteers have already gone through training and onboarding, meaning they provide a lot of value to your organization.  

However, if you face challenges in retaining your volunteers, you’re not alone. Plenty of nonprofits struggle to maintain volunteer support over the long term. In this guide, we’ll explore  these five common volunteer retention challenges, along with tips for overcoming them:  

  1. Communication roadblocks or inefficiencies. 
  2. Lack of a thorough training process.  
  3. Inability to match volunteers with roles that suit their skills and interests. 
  4. Volunteer burnout.  
  5. Incapacity to accept and implement volunteer feedback.  

Ready to learn how to overcome common retention challenges? Let’s dive in! 

Challenge 1: Communication Roadblocks or Inefficiencies

As a nonprofit professional, you know that communication is everything. Communication is necessary to engage with donors, relay information before and after your events, and interact with volunteers. However, volunteer programs can often struggle with communication. Here are some common communication challenges: 

  • Not using the right communication platforms. Using ineffective communication platforms to deliver important information can leave your volunteers feeling confused and frustrated. Depending on the demographics of your volunteers, certain communication platforms will be more effective than others. 
  • Not communicating enough or over communicating. It’s crucial to determine exactly how often to communicate with your volunteers. Sending too many notifications to your volunteers about important information such as upcoming events or dates can make them feel overwhelmed. On the other hand, under-communication can leave your volunteers feeling confused or out of the loop, resulting in missed shifts.  
  • Not making volunteer communications a two-way street. Having a one-way communication street can make your volunteers feel like they can’t voice their concerns and opinions, resulting in disengagement.  

The Solution

Create an intentional and consistent communication strategy by taking the following steps:  

  1. Determine your volunteers’ favorite communication platforms. You want to use the most effective method of communication to deliver important messages at the right time. Ask your volunteers what their preferred communication platform is, whether it’s weekly video calls, group text chats, or email communications. Using platforms that your volunteers prefer will help keep them engaged and informed at all times. 
  2. Establish a clear, consistent communication cadence. Plan out how often you want to communicate with your volunteers. You can send weekly emails highlighting any important upcoming events or have a set day during the week to video chat with your team. Maintaining consistency in your communications will ensure your volunteers don’t get annoyed or feel out-of-touch from your communication process.  

Challenge 2: Lack of a Thorough Training Process  

Without an effective, engaging orientation process, your volunteers won’t have the tools needed to complete their tasks successfully. When your volunteers don’t feel confident in their roles, they won’t feel accomplished and satisfied, resulting in decreased volunteer retention. 

The Solution

Host a comprehensive training process for new volunteers to get them comfortable with their roles. Ensure your training sessions include: 

  1. A warm welcome and thank-you message. Offering a warm welcome makes a great first impression! It allows your volunteers to feel comfortable and welcomed right from the get-go and gets them excited to begin their volunteering journey. Remember to express appreciation with a thank-you message or card to your new volunteers for donating their time for your cause.
  2. Check-in/check-out procedures and other logistical considerations. It’s important that your volunteers are acknowledged for every hour they put in towards your mission. Introduce your volunteers to your check-in and check-out procedures to ensure they know how to properly sign in. Having a volunteer management solution can ease this process by making it seamless and quick, and many platforms offer volunteer check-in apps to streamline the process. 
  3. Descriptions of your volunteer roles, demonstrations, or walkthroughs of specific volunteer tasks. Although your volunteers have carefully chosen and signed up for the desired roles that they felt most suited for, you should review  their role descriptions again in greater detail. Also, ensure volunteers know how to use any required equipment safely and effectively.  

Challenge 3: Inability to Match Volunteers with Roles that Suit their Skills and Interests

Your volunteers want to see the difference they’re making and how their skills contribute to your organization’s success. If volunteers don’t feel passionate or comfortable with their specific roles, they won’t want to continue volunteering.  

The Solution

Use your volunteer management system to keep track of volunteer preferences and match individuals with roles that mesh with their skills and interests. Effective volunteer management software allows your volunteers to view all your opportunities and roles listed on your website or branded sign-up page, and they can sign up for roles they feel most qualified for and passionate about.

Your volunteer management software will also allow you to store important information about your volunteers so you can easily go back and view their profiles. This will come in handy when you want to send new opportunities to existing volunteers based on their interests. 

Challenge 4: Volunteer Burnout

Volunteer burnout is always a concern for nonprofit organizations. Even your most passionate, engaged volunteers can face burnout. It’s crucial to assess your volunteer program from time to time to understand what’s working and what isn’t.

Burnout can be caused by a variety of factors, such as:  

  • Volunteers not having enough free time to volunteer – Some of your volunteers may have a busy schedule, and finding enough time to volunteer can be difficult at times. This can make your volunteers feel stressed out and fatigued. 
  • Volunteers feel like their work doesn’t make a difference – Your volunteers are passionate and are there to help you make a difference. Not seeing the progress they want to see can make them feel unmotivated and lose interest. It’s crucial to highlight their accomplishments to help volunteers understand that their work makes a positive change! 

The Solution

Ensure your volunteers feel valued and nurtured as individuals. Help volunteers protect their mental health and stay motivated with the following steps:   

  1. Give volunteers plenty of breaks. To avoid exhaustion, provide plenty of breaks throughout each volunteer shift. If certain volunteers have busy schedules, provide them with the option to sign up for shorter or less frequent shifts to have time for other important things going on in their lives. 
  2. Let your volunteers know how much you appreciate their time and dedication. There are many ways you can express gratitude and appreciation, whether through social media, your organization’s website, or hosting an awards gala where you offer prizes and certificates. This goes a long way in boosting volunteer retention and making your volunteers feel happy. 

Challenge 5: Incapacity to Accept and Implement Volunteer Feedback  

Volunteers want an opportunity to make their voices heard. If your organization has no way to accept and implement volunteer feedback, volunteers will feel like their opinions aren’t valued.  

Your volunteers are the pillars of your organization, which is why it’s essential to understand what works best for them and what can be done to better their experience to keep them excited for every shift! 

The Solution

Create and distribute volunteer surveys to gather feedback from supporters after any event. Remember to keep your volunteer survey on point and concise. Too many long questions can make your volunteers feel frustrated or annoyed. 

Here are some types of questions you can ask: 

  • Volunteers’ satisfaction with your communication strategy – Communication is key in keeping your volunteers engaged, so this is the perfect opportunity to ask your volunteers if they find your current communication strategies effective. 
  • Volunteers’ satisfaction with your recruitment strategy – Ask your volunteers if your opportunities provided the type of experience they were expecting. This can help you understand if you need to slightly change your role descriptions or jobs to offer a better experience. 

These survey questions will help you understand how your volunteers perceive your organization and whether or not you’re offering the type of experience they had in mind. 

Now that you’ve learned about the common retention challenges many nonprofits face and how to overcome them, it’s the perfect time to start analyzing your current volunteer program to understand what can be done to enhance your volunteers’ current experience! Remember to take feedback from your volunteers and thank them often. Good luck!