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2 min read

Hot Take: We shouldn't track volunteer retention

November 1, 2023


Earlier this year, I shared one of my Hot Takes – an opinion or idea that is meant to be thought provoking. My Hot Take was about the value of a volunteer hour and how I don’t think we talk enough about how all volunteer hours are not equally valuable.

I asked you all to share your Hot Takes with me— and you gave me so many things to think about! This is going to be a series, so if you have a Hot Take you think I should address, please let me know!

How long should a volunteer stay with your organization? One of the Hot Takes sent to me was that volunteer retention should not be measured or tracked, and instead, we should embrace volunteers staying with our organization for as long as time allows (such as a single-day event) or as long as they’re happy and engaged. 

I agree that we shouldn’t consider volunteers successful only if they stay with us for decades! And while this attitude is still out there in the volunteer engagement space, when I asked some of you about what success looks like, only 10% said that volunteers staying forever was your goal.

I want to talk a little more about not tracking retention at all. When I first read that comment I thought “what about evaluating your recruitment and screening practices? what about… all the other things we need to measure and track?” But, when I sat with the uncomfortable feeling of shaking up all the things I think we’re supposed to do, I decided I like this approach.

I don’t think it’s right for every organization - if you mostly engage volunteers in ongoing work and too many volunteers leave before fulfilling the requested commitment, you probably need to understand why, make changes, and track if those changes are successful. In this model retention might be an important metric. I still don’t think longevity should be what we recognize and reward volunteers for, though! (That’s probably another Hot Take topic I should think about.)

I do think it could be a really interesting shift in attitudes around volunteers and an organization’s culture to embrace the “come as you are, stay as long as you want” model, especially if most of your volunteer roles don’t require extensive screening or training.

What do you think? Would you consider this? Is your idea of retention helping or hurting your volunteer engagement strategy? Let me know in the comments below!

(Thank you to Danielle for this thought-provoking Hot Take!)

Jennifer Bennett

Written by Jennifer Bennett

Jennifer Bennett, CVA is the Director of Education & Training at VolunteerMatch. Jennifer joined VolunteerMatch to formalize and manage the organization’s volunteer engagement program. With her breadth of experience, she is well qualified to help VolunteerMatch’s community of nonprofits better recruit and engage volunteers.