Nonprofits: Retaining Volunteers After Holiday

volunteersThe holiday season is filled with meetings, parties, and people looking for nonprofit organizations needing volunteers. For many smaller organizations, this is when they experience their greatest increase in volunteerism, but the underlying issue of how to retain these volunteers is ever-present.

During this time of year, there are various task volunteers can contribute to, such as, wrapping gifts, sorting toys, or delivering meals, but it is important for nonprofits to take the time to establish a relationship with each volunteer that can transition from “seasonal” help to long-term community support. Here are five tips for nonprofits struggling to retain volunteers and keep them giving all year long.

1. Tell Them Thank You

Nothing makes a volunteer feel more valued than saying “Thank You.” Send a card immediately after they volunteer detailing the task performed and how they benefited the organization. During the holidays volunteers can design Thank You cards to send to sponsors, volunteers and other champions of your cause. This adds a personal flare to the volunteer experience but you don’t have to stop there! You can host a holiday party or a volunteer awards banquet to highlight volunteer contributions and thank them for their service.

2. Utilize Social Media

No one can sell your story better than your employees, so why not use them to recruit new volunteers, promote events, and share your organizational goals and mission? This is a quick and effective way to keep interaction going. Likes, Favorites and Tweets can open a huge door for the organization and provide a personal touch to the information shared. Posting photographs are another way to get people excited about the organizations work. It also builds a relationship with the volunteer and encourages them to share with their trusted circles of family and friends who can later contribute to your nonprofit.

3. Reach Out & Touch

In the 1980’s AT&T had a “reach out and touch” telephone commercial centered around reconnecting families and friends. In these commercials, you would see a young teen on the phone and on the other end a gushing grandparent. Essentially, AT&T wanted customers to make time to reconnect with the most important people around them. Nonprofits could use this concept to “reconnect” with former volunteers and keep them in the loop regarding events, trainings, and anything else that interest them. Are you the new Volunteer Coordinator? Call former volunteers and introduce yourself and ask if they would like to volunteer or highlight what the organization is doing. Keep it genuine and watch how a former volunteer may be inclined to return based on a phone call. People are impressed when someone reaches out to build a mutually beneficial relationship.

4. Rock Around The Clock

Nothing is worse than having an eager and knowledgeable volunteer that hits a brick wall based on time. Maybe they are an entrepreneur, a student or retiree that is only free on Tuesdays between 5 and 7 p.m., but it’s the nonprofit’s duty to identify ways for that individual to contribute and become a part of the organization’s culture. Consider a time slot and activity that serves both your needs and the volunteer’s. This shows the volunteer that you are willing to work with them if they are willing to support your cause and increases the likelihood of them returning to volunteer for your nonprofit. Lastly, be sure to return phone calls and emails as quickly as possible to place volunteers or to respond to any questions. This shows you care enough to follow-up and avoid soured feelings in the process. When you don’t respond within 2-3 days a potential volunteer usually disappears.

5. Ask. Give. Receive.

Tap into what volunteers want and expect via a questionnaire or during their exit interview.

You want to make sure their needs have been met, and you also want to be sure their experience matches your organization’s mission and goals. Asking volunteers for feedback can help your organization streamline efforts and resources, but also makes volunteers feel valued and a part of the organization by allowing them to have a voice in making improvements. If volunteers don’t feel a part of the process they won’t return and this is critical to your success.

The fun and joy of giving shouldn’t be just once a year. It can be a lasting and rewarding experience for everyone involved. Encourage volunteers to learn more about the organization by informing them of any ongoing volunteer opportunities throughout the year. Garner enthusiasm by having volunteers register for monthly newsletters or mailings. It’s important to make an effort towards building these relationships because a nonprofit is only as strong as its employees and dedicated volunteers. Now, let the year of sharing begin!

Suggested Reading

  • | ‘Tis the Season for Recruiting – 20 Reasons Why December Is a Powerful Recruiting Month
  • NOLO | Nonprofit Volunteers: Top Five Tips to Keep Them Coming
  • The Huffington Post | 6 Tips To Keep Volunteers Committed To The Cause

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Vannessa Wade

Vannessa Wade is the founder and CEO of Connect The Dots PR in Houston, Texas. An alumna of the University of Houston, Wade specializes in public relations and community development programming for nonprofit organizations and corporate businesses and has been featured in numerous newspaper, television and radio segments.

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