How to retain volunteers in the long term

This article explains how to retain volunteers in the long term

How to retain volunteers in the long term

There are many similarities between research on employee engagement and the long-term commitment of volunteers. Both fields approach issues such as motivation and satisfaction to determine what drives people to stay involved in a good cause. Remarkably, in the case of volunteers, this is done in exchange for little or no financial compensation.

Many charities on Deedmob indicate that especially retaining volunteers for the long term is becoming increasingly difficult. Specifically, it seems increasingly difficult to keep volunteers involved for more than a few weeks.

In this article, we share what researchers discovered about volunteer intentions. In addition, we share our own best practices that you can apply within your organisation to increase the chances of long-term retention of volunteers.

This is what the science says...

According to Chacón, Vecina, & Dávila (2007), there are three main variables that influence the intention to stay long-term as a volunteer.

Stage 1 - Overall satisfaction: How close are the volunteer's expectations to reality? Meeting or exceeding expectations makes volunteers less likely to give up on an activity. This is despite the fact that costs such as time, burnout and money are becoming more and more prominent (Chacón, Vecina, & Dávila, 2010).

Stage 2 - Organisational commitment: Long-term commitment to an organisation requires a personal identification with the goals and values of a charity or nonprofit. In many cases, this leads to an additional motivation boost when volunteer satisfaction temporarily wanes.

Stage 3 - Role identity: Finally, the extent to which a volunteer views his role as part of his self-image also has an effect on the duration and intensity of his commitment (Callero, 1985, Finkelstein, Penner, & Brannick, 2005).

Involvement from the start

You know what your organisation cares about; the problem it is trying to solve. The trick is to get new volunteers to donate time to help you solve it. However, the way you achieve this is not always obvious.

Of the respondents in Deedmob's own database of volunteers, we found that more than 90% identified 'team spirit' and 'community feeling' as factors that create satisfaction. Perhaps the majority of these volunteers had not considered the connections with fellow volunteers and within the organisation beforehand. Thus, the volunteer activity could ultimately exceed expectations.

It helps to think of new ways to increase volunteer satisfaction. Start by focusing on the task itself. Ask yourself if it is too difficult, too easy or simply uninspiring. Don't forget to be critical.

Try to compensate for any loss of task satisfaction by ensuring impeccable volunteer management and supervision. By facilitating meaningful interactions between fellow volunteers and organisation members, you make the experience that little bit more special.

We collected a number of best practices that we would like to share with you:

Organise open days to offer prospective volunteers an accessible way to get to know the faces behind your organisation

Integrate teamwork in the activities and tasks

Strive for excellent communication and expectation management, before and after the activity. Top tip: ask yourself if the way you describe the activity in your volunteer vacancy matches the reality.

Facilitate moments where volunteers and coordinators can get to know each other better. Make time in the day for a joint lunch, introduction round or coffee break.

Use social media to stay in touch with volunteers, by inviting them to like or follow your page.

Nurture what is important

Once someone has become a volunteer in your organisation, it is essential to nurture this new relationship. Beyond the initial satisfaction with the volunteer activity, volunteers should experience interest in your purpose, values, and objectives. This increases the likelihood of long-term commitment.

Like employees, volunteers are looking for meaning in their work. But how do you achieve this? By letting them know how they have made a positive difference in your organisation.  

Ask yourself this:

Has this person made someone smile?  

Has he or she reduced organisational costs or increased overall productivity?

Did they contribute to the expansion or growth of the organisation to other regions or neighbourhoods?

It is your turn to let volunteers know that you appreciate their efforts! Here are some things you can try to make volunteers feel appreciated: Surprise them with thank-you notes (or emails)

Put the volunteer of the month in the spotlight with a social media post

Let volunteers know how they have improved your organisation

Encourage initiative and ideas by involving them in strategy formation & planning

Working with volunteers requires valuable time and resources from your organisation. We hope these tips will help you get value out of your investment. By getting inside the volunteer's head and asking the right questions, you will soon discover what motivates them to stay involved in your organisation for the long term.

We use these insights and knowledge to make the way organisations work with volunteers easier. Curious about our product? Take a look at

Gerbrand Holland

Partnership Manager

Gerbrand Holland is one of the Partnership Managers at Deedmob.