5 Surprisingly Easy Ways to Lose Volunteers

Guest post by Isabel Wiliams

Three young professionals ripping paper.Recruiting volunteers is one thing – making sure that they continue to be interested in what you’re doing is another. That’s when many nonprofits struggle and start to lose their volunteers.

Here are 5 examples of how to quickly lose the support of even your most dedicated volunteers. It’s a cautionary tale…

1. Lack of clear organization

Imagine you’re a volunteer: you’re giving up your time for a higher cause, only to discover that the staff of the organization lacks clear structure. Team members are late, tools are missing or incomplete, and people around you are uncertain about their actions and strategies.

For some people, a level of disorganization is acceptable. But you can be sure that your high-capacity volunteers will get quickly discouraged from participating in your activities, feeling that their time could be spent more productively somewhere else.

2. No concrete goals

If your vision, strategy and mission are unclear, you’re in for trouble. The ‘why’ behind your cause is what motivates volunteers to spend their time helping you achieve your mission – if you cannot provide the ideological basis for your actions, volunteers won’t feel the drive and passion to share your goals.

3. Failing to recognize their contribution

Volunteers help you without being paid for it, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t appreciate some form of recognition. If you fail to reward them and rarely ever recognize the passion and enthusiasm they bring to your cause, you’re bound to quickly lose their attention. Remember that being recognized is what ultimately motivates people to go the extra mile in their work.

4. No strong leadership

Without a clear structure and a strong leader, your organization is doomed. No volunteer will be willing to waste their time on a nonprofit that has no clear leadership – it simply suggests lack of coherent strategy. You organization should be divided into various departments and teams, each with a leader who sets the tone and inspires others to help your cause.

5. Lack of training or investment

Another vital mistake that can cost you a lot of helping hands is failure to provide training or lack of investment in your volunteers. Both training and investment show that you value your volunteers and their work, and are willing to help them develop new skills and qualifications they can later include in their resumes, perhaps opening up new career doors.

Keeping volunteers motivated and engaged isn’t easy – but the effort is well worth it. It’s only through smart management of your human resources that you’ll be able to make your voice heard and your cause recognized in your communities.

Isabel Wiliams is an HR Specialist at BizDB.

Looking for a Magic Number

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

Girl holding books, looking at math symbols.This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

Last month, I wrote about volunteer orientations, and about how facilitating orientations is a critical and often overlooked part of the event’s success.

This month, as I debated moving on to another topic, I realized there is still more to say about orientations and why they are such a valuable practice within volunteer management.

That’s because your volunteer orientation is the gateway into your organization. It is there to inspire the ones you want to volunteer– and screen out the prospects who are not a great fit.

Don’t you wonder?

And if you run an effective orientation, it also begs the question: what is a reasonable return on an orientation? Should we expect everyone who attends to hand over a volunteer application?

I know the answer for the organization where I have recruited and trained volunteers – it’s 43%. For any given orientation, I can expect about 43% of the guests to submit an application. The reason I know 43% will apply is because I have tracked that figure month by month for seven years. It’s an amazingly reliable figure that has allowed me to forecast how many guests I need at an orientation to reach my target number of volunteers.

What’s interesting about that 43% is that other programs have reported a similar return. When I taught a course on recruitment planning a few months ago, I asked my students to track the percentage of guests at orientations who apply. Surprisingly, they also landed somewhere between 40% and 45%.

Getting Quantifiable

So is 43% a magic number? I doubt it. My course was small and probably too tiny a sampling to be statistically accurate.

And that makes me curious. What do other volunteer managers experience in their programs? Do you have a higher or lower rate of return on orientations?

If you have an answer…

If you already track this data, please email me and share your results. Perhaps we all hover around that 43% mark, or perhaps we can pinpoint the factors that shift that number up or down.

Or to track the answer…

And if you don’t track this data and want to start, let me know and I will send you a spreadsheet with this percentage calculations – already embedded in there.\

Twenty Hats is authored by Elisa Kosarin, CVA, a nonprofit professional with 15+ years of experience in nonprofit marketing, development, and volunteer management. She founded the site to help volunteer managers master the skills they need to make their jobs easier.

The Fine Art of Facilitating Orientations

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

The fine art of facilitation.This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

When you facilitate an orientation, remember it’s you running the show.

Do you hold an orientation for new volunteers? If you do – and if you have held a bunch of them, you have probably seen it all.

I know I have. As someone who has led over 65 prospective volunteer orientations (and counting!), I remember the early days of hosting these events. Back in the day it was not uncommon to witness:

  • Audience members who dominated the conversion, leaving everyone else to shift around in their seats impatiently.
  • Speakers who veered away from their talking points, creating misconceptions about the program.
  • Presenters who droned on so long that there was no time left to cover all the material.

All of these scenarios undermined the impact of my orientation – something I could not afford, as my program needed a great many volunteers. So instead of refining my agenda or choosing different speakers, I chose to develop the one ability certain to turn things around, my facilitation skills.

If you are new to facilitation, or if you seek to hone your skills, here are my essentials.

My four favorite facilitation tips:

  1. Run the show. As the facilitator, you are the leader. Don’t give your power over to the audience or the speakers. You have the right to jump in and redirect the conversation at any time.
  2. Give your speakers a heads up. Tell your speakers what you expect them to cover and how long they have to speak, and give them a heads up that you may interrupt if time runs out.
  3. Manage the long-winded guests. If someone dominates the Q & A, it’s fine to say “Let’s hear from other guests” and direct your attention to another part of the audience.
  4. Save some questions for afterwards. If the questions are coming fast and you need to cover more material, let folks know that you are available to answer their questions individually when the presentation ends.

Please Weigh In

What do you think of these top four? If you have your own Point of View on facilitation, please share it here or send me an email at TwentyHats@mail.com. I am creating a facilitation tip sheet, and I would love to include the collective wisdom of my colleagues on this topic – and credit you all for your input.

Twenty Hats is authored by Elisa Kosarin, CVA, a nonprofit professional with 15+ years of experience in nonprofit marketing, development, and volunteer management. She founded the site to help volunteer managers master the skills they need to make their jobs easier.

For the Love of Animals

A young ASCMV volunteer holds a dog. She frequently walks dogs for the organization.

This ASCMV volunteer adores dogs, and walks any size, any breed. It must run in the family, as her mother is a special events and adoptions volunteer for the organization.

The dog glanced back, eying the person holding his leash mischievously. And in a flash, he wiggled out of his collar and took off. Nimbly weaving through the downtown farmers market, the dog ran through a car wash, jumped over a few fences, and went around a roundabout…twice.

Undaunted, the dog’s caretaker followed persistently, and finally caught up as the dog squeezed his way underneath a shed for a nap. The caretaker didn’t give up, and didn’t try to wait the dog out. Instead, this person got down on the ground, wiggled through cobwebs, and emerged covered in dirt, soaking wet, and victoriously holding onto the rogue dog.

Who was this diligent caretaker? Just your average volunteer at the Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley (ASCMV), located in Las Cruces, New Mexico. But these volunteers are anything but average.

For ASCMV, volunteers are the physical and emotional lifeblood that enables them to do their important work. Learn how this nonprofit engages and manages dozens of dedicated, passionate and skilled volunteers.

Read more about ASCMV’s volunteer management.

How Do You Keep Your Organization Safe?

How does your organization screen potential volunteersWhen your organization engages potential volunteers, how do you screen them? How do you ensure that, not only are they the people you really need, but that your nonprofit’s information, reputation and clients will be protected? Furthermore, how do you determine what to include in volunteer screenings, and measure the effectiveness of them?

These are not easy questions to answer, especially since we’ve noticed that each organization tends to have its own set of standards and policies for screening volunteers. And wouldn’t it be so much easier if we shared our knowledge and experience with each other?

Of course it would. Enter VolunteerMatch.

We’ve partnered with a national identity service provider to gather information about how nonprofits currently screen volunteers and validate their information. We think the survey results will help us all engage the right volunteers for our organizations. Because even though not every screening process or step will be right for every nonprofit, finding trends and best practices can help steer us in the right direction.

All you need to do is fill out an easy 10-minute survey, and share it with colleagues and friends. We’ll release our findings in early 2015.

Take the survey, and help us create a more secure, volunteer-filled world for everyone.

Take the survey now.