As most community organisations are heavily volunteer reliant, it is of course vital that they take care of their teams. It surprises us how often we hear the same complaints from volunteers, and often these come down to a lack of preparation, sound practices, training, supervision and support.
Understanding what may cause volunteers to leave will give you the advantage of avoiding the age old volunteer recruitment and retention traps.
Why haven’t they called? We know that you are all busy, but delaying contacting a potential volunteer may see you lose them altogether. Volunteers who are not contacted within a few days of making an offer may feel not needed, or that your organisation is not grateful. Even if you don’t need a volunteer right now, give them a call.
Why is this taking so long? Volunteer recruitment can take a while, particularly if the process involves Police or other checks. Although we cannot speed up some of these processes, communicate the process and expected time frame right at the beginning. The dissatisfaction for volunteers comes when the process is not explained or understood.
It shouldn’t cost me to volunteer. Volunteer Centres are finding that those seeking voluntary roles are looking for positions where they will be reimbursed for travel costs. Many funders are very happy to consider applications for volunteer expenses, do what you can to make volunteering cost neutral.
This is not what I signed up for! We all know this one – you offer to take on a role, and before you know it, you’ve somehow gained several extra roles or tasks. Overwhelming volunteers with more than they offered to do is a great way to get them running out the door. Be clear about the details of the role, provide a role description. It’s ok to ask them if they are happy to take on another role or additional tasks, but respect their wishes.
I’m not making a difference. Sometimes it is hard for a volunteer to see how their effort is making a difference. Remind them all that their role is a piece in a bigger picture, and that all the pieces are vital. Give feedback, show appreciation, and ask your volunteers if they are finding their positions rewarding. If not, perhaps find a role that will be more fulfilling.
There is just no challenge. Make sure that your volunteers have the opportunity for ongoing development, to utilise their skills and to ‘step up’ to new roles or opportunities. Most of us don’t want to keep doing the same old thing, although some do.
Micro-managed and not trusted. Most people do not want to be micro-managed; rather they want to be trusted to complete their tasks to a high standard, even if they might make mistakes. Micro-managing should only be necessary in the case of performance issues, or perhaps for a short period at the beginning of the volunteer’s engagement.
There’s no communication. Volunteers often get frustrated when they are not informed, and not listened to. Most people who volunteer genuinely want to be part of a team, and not feeling on the outer. Make sure your volunteers have a voice, and that they feel they are heard. Ensure that new volunteers have an opportunity to express their ideas and opinions as equally as long serving volunteers or paid staff.
They were so disorganised / unprofessional. We often have volunteers that complain that the organisation is disorganised, there was no work prepared for them, no workspace, no resources, no one knew what was going on, and that the volunteer had nothing to do. If you are engaging a new volunteer, make sure you are ready to do so.
I just didn’t fit in. At times we hear of volunteers who joined a team and ended up leaving because they felt they did not fit in. Make sure your existing team treats all new volunteers warmly and are accepting of diversity – different ages, gender, culture, ethnicity, abilities etc. Ensuring that volunteers have a good induction and are made to feel welcome and supported will help them to feel part of the team.
Many of these complaints can be avoided or mitigated by ensuring that your organisation is volunteer-ready. Ensure your staff understands the value of your volunteers, have good communication processes, job descriptions, clear lines of accountability and that they know what is expected of them. Make sure they know who to talk to if there are any issues – hopefully you can nip it in the bud.
Remember that the volunteers who engage with your organisation, either long term or briefly, will form an opinion, and they will tell others of their experience, especially if it was a bad one. Make sure that you treat any volunteer or potential volunteer as you would any customer, with the utmost respect and consideration.
Heather Moore - Tonic Magazine (Issue 23, August-October 2014)