Are you a Pastor at a church? Do you lead an organization that is run largely by volunteers? Business owner, are their volunteers who work in your business daily, weekly, or even annually? If any of these leadership roles apply to you then let me ask you this, do you find it hard to keep reliable volunteers and recruit new ones?
If you answer yes then this blog is for you!
Let’s face it, a lot of times a great volunteer is difficult to find and when we do find great volunteers often they are hard to keep. Why is that? Is there something we are doing wrong as organizational leaders?
Before I answer that question I want to explain simply what it means to be a volunteer.
The definition of volunteer states: ‘a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task; freely offer to do something.’
I find this definition to not be entirely accurate. The only thing remotely ‘free’ about volunteers is the actual pay. Every volunteer pays a price when they give their time without financial compensation. Organizational leaders must understand this!
Volunteers pay the price of their time and TIME is the most valuable commodity. While your organization is yours and you eat, sleep, and breathe it, it is not your volunteer’s life. Your volunteers give up time from their families, recreational activities, relaxation, and many volunteers even take vacation days away from their jobs to serve your organization.
As someone who has worked a 9AM-5PM job and then tried to volunteer at church, I am constantly amazed at the commitment of volunteers who work tirelessly during the day only to use their ‘free time’ to serve and make the organizations I lead a better place. Plus, I’m even more blown away when mothers and fathers, who do not have ‘free time’, make time to serve!
You see as leaders we must never take for granted the fact that people give their time ‘freely’ to make the organization a better place. If anything it should continually humble us that hardworking parents and adults use their ‘free’ time to work in our organizations.
NEVER TAKE THAT FOR GRANTED!
Okay, now that I’ve said that let’s move forward.
Why do we have volunteers who are great for a season but eventually quit volunteering and soon leave the organization? What causes volunteers not to be committed? Have you ever asked yourself these questions?
Through my experience working with volunteers over the past decade, there are many reasons that volunteers leave an organization, but I would like to highlight the top three reasons I’ve discovered.
1) They Are Confused
The number one reason I’ve seen volunteers leave an organization is because they are not clear on their specific jobs. Too often I’ve witnessed organizational leaders give a job, but not provide the resources or the clear game plan about how the job is to be done. We expect them to just figure it out.
If you asked someone to chop wood that you had gotten from a tree would you leave them there without an ax or wood chopping machine? Furthermore, would you leave the task in their hands before showing them how to chop the wood? Of course not, or at least I hope you wouldn’t! However, we do this in our organizations all the time.
We leave our volunteers with a job title, but we fail to give specific job instructions and resources to successfully fulfill the job responsibilities placed before them. Of course they leave and burn out! They are confused! There are no clear requirements outlined and even if there were, the resources to accomplish the tasks asked of them are not provided.
How do you solve this?
First, develop very detailed job descriptions for them to outline every expectation and task of the specific job they are volunteering for. Also, do not add to this job description or sneak in an ‘extra job’! You may laugh at that, but I’ve seen leaders do it all the time. Stick to the job description! Require nothing more and nothing less!
Second, provide them with every resource they need to do their job effectively.
If they volunteer to clean, give them the cleaning supplies.
If they are packing boxes, give them the boxes and tape.
If they are parking cars, give them a vest and show them where the cars need to be parked.
Etc., etc., etc.
You get my point. Additionally, if these volunteers come to work an event provide food and drinks! It’s simple! If they volunteer in the morning, provide breakfast. If they volunteer in the afternoon, provide lunch. If they volunteer at night, provide dinner. Food and drinks are the greatest and inexpensive way we can provide resources for our volunteers. Trust me you will be amazed what a free sandwich and cookie can do to help a volunteer feel equipped and satisfied to do their job.
I know every time I volunteer and they feed me it makes me happy. It also makes me work harder.
So be clear and don’t leave your volunteers confused. Provide clarity of the job and resources to do the job.
2) Their Time Is Not Respected
Alright, this is my biggest pet peeve. I’ve witnessed over and over again volunteer’s burn out because their time is simply not respected. How many of you out there have extra time? I know I don’t and neither do our volunteers. We live in a fast pace society, and therefore, we have no time to waste. So respect your volunteer’s time.
How do you disrespect their time? I’ll give you a few examples.
You tell them the volunteer position requires two hours of their week, but you keep them for four hours.
You give them a specific job area to work in, but are constantly pulling them to work in areas additional to what they signed up for.
You say a meeting is going to start at a particular time, but continually start late and end late.
Side Note: You may be saying to yourself, ‘I’d love to start on time, but none of my volunteers arrive on time.’ I guarantee that if you make it a habit to start on time your volunteers will show up on time. It may take a few meetings to set the prompt tone among your volunteers, but I guarantee by the third meeting the majority of volunteers will arrive to the meetings on time because they know that is exactly when you start!
Volunteers are giving their time free of cost, the least we can do is RESPECT it!
How do we do this?
First, have your volunteers stick to the time outlined in your job description. If it is two hours expect nothing more and nothing less. Also, if you do perhaps need them to stay longer, ask them kindly and without obligation. Never make your volunteers feel guilty for giving only the time they have committed to. After all, you both agreed on the same time amount, therefore, they should feel no guilt for not volunteering extra time unless they want to.
Second, start and end your meetings ON TIME! Do not be the long-winded leader who can’t do a one-hour meeting. No offense, but if you can’t do a volunteer meeting in less than an hour or hour and a half you need to get someone else to lead the volunteer meeting. There is no reason volunteers should have to be in a meeting longer than an hour and a half. That is way too much.
I know every time in my life when I volunteered and the meetings would start late, go way over time, and were unclear, I soon quit the volunteer position. I didn’t have the time to waste and neither do our volunteers.
Respect your volunteer’s TIME!
3) They Are Not Appreciated
Wow, this one by far is the most upsetting to me and unfortunately the most common reason volunteers leave. Our volunteers are not appreciated. Voltaire once stated: “Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” Leaders, if we want excellent volunteers we must show them appreciation.
Growing up my parents always said: “If someone does something nice for you Katlyn say thank you!” Volunteers are doing something very nice for our organizations and us. Therefore, we need to take time to show our thanks and appreciation. They’re giving their time and resources freely to make the organizations we serve a better place. I think that deserves tremendous appreciation don’t you?
It breaks my heart when I see organization use volunteers until they are empty and then when these volunteers leave they simply replace them with another volunteer. This is shameful! Our organizations do not need to be like Leeches sucking our volunteers dry and then moving onto new ‘prey’. We must incorporate ways to say thanks REGULARLY.
No, a once a year Christmas party doesn’t cut it! It’s nice, but these individuals give their time weekly so they should at least be shown appreciation monthly, don’t you think? I do!
How do we do this?
First of all, never underestimate a handwritten Thank You card and/or food! You will be amazed at how much a simple handwritten Thank You card will mean to your volunteers. I have volunteers in organizations I have led that still tell me how they have a Thank You card from me on their desk or mirror in their room. This simple and inexpensive gesture will mean more to your volunteers than you will ever know! Try it.
Also, food is ALWAYS a winner. You can provide food on the day they serve, such as donuts and coffee. Another option is to do goodie bags full of food to give them with the Thank You card you write them. Again, all of these are super inexpensive ways to show your appreciation. Literally, all of the above can be picked up at Dollar Tree! Well, maybe not the donuts if you go that route, but all the candy and Thank You cards for sure!
Second, throw some awesome appreciation parties! You can do this quarterly or twice a year. Yes, a once a year party is nice, but my personal conviction and experience tells me that is not enough to truly shows your appreciation for a volunteers continuous work. Perhaps you can rent out a restaurant, throw a party at your house, do a cookout, rent out a bowling ally, etc.. Whatever it is make sure it is epic, well planned, and a lot of fun! Plus, make sure you don’t simply throw a party, but take the time during the party to express your deep appreciation for all they do and assure them of the difference they make.
Another cool idea as far as parties, bring a cake each month to celebrate the volunteers whose birthdays were that month! Have a mini party and a gift for each volunteer whose birthday falls in that month. I promise you it will make all the difference in the world!
Show your volunteers appreciation and I promise you they will stay a lot longer than you ever even anticipated.
The Top 3 Reasons Your Volunteers Leave:
1) They Are Confused
2) Their Time Is Not Respected
3) They Are Not Appreciated
As you can tell I am passionate about helping organizational leaders recruit and keep volunteers. It is my hope that this blog has given you great insight and some practical tools on how you can keep your volunteers around! Without volunteers there would be no way we can do half of what we are able to do! Always remember this!
Please LIKE, COMMENT, and SHARE with any leader you know who needs to read this! Thanks!
Have a blessed day!