VI. Volunteer Retention
Short vs. Long-Term Volunteer
Professional/Pro Bono Volunteers
LIRS Sample Network Materials
Be sure to recognize and celebrate your volunteers’ contributions and value the expertise and enthusiasm they bring. This section offers strategies to help ensure that your volunteers continue to work with you because their work is rewarding and appreciated.
Formal vs. Informal Recognition
Partner Highlight - Volunteer Recognition: Make time to celebrate!
The Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants (ICDI) has over 200 volunteers serving in four capacities. Twice a year, they convene volunteers across all four programs to reflect, train, and reenergize. Most recently, they held an all-day retreat at a local high school. During the retreat, several key events occurred:
- Invited a guest speaker to facilitate a discussion on identifying and coping with compassion fatigue.
- Board members, program directors and volunteers spoke about their experiences, followed by a small group discussion and reflection.
- The retreat concluded with each program standing and recommitting to another year of service, followed by an interfaith prayer.
- Every volunteer was presented with a 2015 magnetic calendar that said, “You’re the best! We appreciate you. ICDI.”
- ICDI shows appreciation and support throughout the rest of the year by organizing luncheons, recognizing volunteer anniversaries, and mailing birthday and holiday cards.
Formal recognition usually implies a planned event, typically scheduled annually or semi-annually, such as:
- Hosting an annual potluck for staff, volunteers, clients, and their families and friends.
- Giving annual awards for traits you admire in a volunteer, like “most friendly volunteer,” “most dedicated volunteer,” or “best volunteer leader.”
Informal recognition entails smaller, everyday gestures of gratitude that create a “culture of appreciation” in which the volunteer feels valued every time he or she serves at your organization. Informal recognition is personal and demonstrates that staff value the unique contributions of the volunteer. This becomes natural and important in a healthy volunteer environment. Some examples of informal recognition are:
- A smile and a verbal “thank you” every time the volunteer serves.
- Introducing your volunteers to the leadership of the organization.
- Celebrating volunteers’ birthdays with a card, celebratory email, or a cupcake.
USING MCCLELLAND’S SOCIAL MOTIVATORS IN RECOGNITION:Achievement:
- Tangible items, like a plaque or certificate
- Letter of praise to their employer
- More challenging tasks and additional training
- Give them an impressive title and “promotions” when necessary
- Name an award after them
- Audience for recognition should include higher-ups in the organization or community
- Note of thanks and/or personalized gift
- A social gathering or party
- Name/photo in the newspaper or newsletter
Partner Highlight - Breaking Bread: Building Social Connections
One reason volunteers stay is because they feel a sense of community with the migrants, refugees, and volunteers they work with.
Lutheran Social Services of Georgia (LSG) considers building relationships central to the mission of their volunteer program. That’s why they organized 125 refugees, church members, and community guests to come together at Rock of Ages Lutheran Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia, for the Breaking Bread and Building Bridges dinner.
The event aimed to bring migrants and refugees together with volunteers and local congregations through a shared meal—an internationally recognized way to show hospitality and strengthen relationships. As one community, attendees shared stories and enjoyed delicious food from all over the world.
After the meal, children made crafts and played, while Melanie Johnson of LSG led the adults in a community conversation about food, celebration and hospitality to deepen attendees’ understanding and appreciation of the various cultures present at the event.How they did it:
- Used food and conversation as a way to bring refugees and members from the welcoming community together and build relationships and understanding
- Encouraged refugees, congregants and volunteers to invite people they met at the event to their home for dinner to continue to build relationships
- After dinner facilitated a conversation based on these questions
- What are favorite foods you like to serve to guests in your home?
- Describe a special holiday or festival day in your culture when you like to show hospitality to others.
- Encourage volunteer retention by building in social activities and opportunities to connect
- Considering including a potluck dinner with a volunteer awards night
- Create opportunities for volunteers and congregants to build relationships with the migrants and refugees your organization serves
Short vs. Long-Term Volunteer
Although volunteers may be at your organization for a finite period of time, all volunteers should be recognized for their work. The right type of recognition could turn a short-term volunteer into a long-term one.
Recognize short-term volunteers with a memento of their experience, like:
- A small gift (t-shirt, bumper sticker, etc.)
- A photograph
- Other memorabilia from your organization
Volunteer recognition events are an opportunity to encourage volunteers to donate.
- Consider making a donation ask towards the end of volunteer recognition events.
- Give a special award for volunteers who are also donors.
- Work with the student’s school to give college credit for the volunteer experience.
- Write honest, thoughtful recommendation letters if the volunteer is applying to graduate school or jobs.
- Call the volunteer experience an internship. Not only will this look good on a resume, it will allow the volunteer to feel that he or she is a bigger part of the organization. However, there are legal restrictions on the types of work an unpaid intern can perform, so be sure to check with the U.S. Department of Labor before advertising an unpaid internship experience.
Professional/Pro Bono Volunteers:
- Encourage clients of your volunteers to send personal thank you notes to your volunteers. Ensure they feel appreciated not only by your organization, but also by the clients they serve.
- Host an event for your professional employees to network with each other.
- Have a “volunteer of the month” program, and feature this volunteer on your website with a picture and a short article.xl
- Invite volunteers and their families to a special recognition luncheon.
- Ask about their children.
- Have a bring-your-kid-to-work day.
- Ask them to share about their inspiration to volunteer at your organization.
- If you feel comfortable, attend their churches once and tell the pastor and other parishioners about the volunteers’ wonderful work.
- Identify and implement regular opportunities for formal recognition.
- Identify and implement regular opportunities for informal recognition.